Stranger Things: Plunder-ful!
If you’ve watched Stranger Things, Netflix’s entertaining genre throwback, you might notice something.
It gleefully plunders Sci Fi, horror and fantasy movies of the ’70s and ’80s and recontextualizes the parts in a canny, retro-modernist style. It’s equal parts homage and brazen imitation and it works quite well.
If you’re a fan of older genre films, you might recognize some of the borrowed bits.
1. A small, semi-rural town in the Midwest that feels slightly shabby.
2. An innocuous pre-teen vanishes mysteriously.
3. A shady corporation with murky ties to “The Government” is performing some ethically questionable, if not outright illegal, research.
4. Including swiping a girl from her mother’s womb and raising her to become a living weapon.
5. A grotesque monster stalks the town, but will be mostly unseen until late in the final act.
6. A controversial doctor sanctions kidnapping, assault and murder in furtherance of science.
7. Rifts open to another dimension.
8. That other dimension is a bleaker, washed out copy of our world.
9. The geek culture grounding of a band of pre-teen friends will prove surprisingly relevant to the action unfolding.
10. A young girl with fearsome powers but no knowledge of the world beyond her lab runs away.
11. Otherwise competent parents somehow fail to notice that their pre-teen shelters a runaway in their basement for a week.
12. The mother of the missing boy willingly embraces the crazy things happening around her if it means bringing her child home. Even if everyone around her thinks she’s off her nut.
13. The emotionally damaged sheriff shrugs off his haze of booze and self-pity to rise to the occasion of rescuing the missing boy.
14. The shadowy corporation goes to great lengths to cover up its misdeeds, including faking a child’s death.
15. A smart, “good” girl cashes her v-card with the town’s resident callow rich kid before bonding with the weird loner who’d rather photograph people than talk to them.
16. Anomalies with lighting and electrical fixtures provide crucial clues to what’s going on.
17. In addition to the sheriff, a bunch of amateurs collect crucial information, but despite many of them being related to one another, it’s not until late in the final act before they all unite and pool resources.
18. The powerful pre-teen regularly knocks stuff around with her mind, but it takes a nasty physical toll on her.
19. A heroic sacrifice bears some not remotely subtle Messianic overtones.
20. The bigger threat to the town causes everyone to overlook that a pre-teen bully is actually a freaking sociopath.
You’re probably thinking of the various movies you’ve seen that used one or more of these elements. Creators The Duffer Brothers know that. They want you to play “spot the influence.” They bring in familiar faces like Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and David Harbour to give the action a firm grounding. The set designers and costumers have a ball digging up every retro home decoration and fashion item they can put their hands on. The entire production is made with a knowing wink, a functioning sense of wit and deep love for the source material.
The action moves quickly. The mythology doesn’t get too complicated. It’s fun and involving, with plenty of humorous moments to leaven the scarier ones.
Stranger Things is like an eight-hour meal consisting entirely of comfort foods you loved as a kid. You may not want to eat that way all the time, but as a treat, you chow down with nary a regret.