Rating 4.5/5 – I caught a delayed train to the party on Stranger Things, which is why this review is so late. Everyone has been talking about it but I have not had the time to take a look until a couple of days ago. The last time I was late to a party like this was when the trailers for Die Hard starting coming on TV. I remember thinking “They’re trying to make the Moonlighting guy an action hero.” We see how right I was on that one, don’t we? When I heard the descriptions of Stranger Things it felt like Super 8 and for some reason, I just felt the whole “monster story based around a group of kids in the 1980’s” thing was played, even though there are not that many stories. I was wrong about Die Hard and I was wrong about Stranger Things. What we have here is a damn good story, with really good characters brought to life by charismatic and engaging actors. And Winona Ryder. (I’m kidding. She was fine.) There were really intense moments an excellent story flow as a very satisfying resolution despite the obvious cliffhanger leading to the second season. And judging by the amount of extremely positive buzz this show’s got on the internet Stranger Things will totally have a second season.
Stranger Things: The Kids Are Alright
Everyone is going on and one about how great the four boys, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), are in Stranger Things and they deserve it. Seriously, the show would not have worked without the wonderful performances from these four kids. They deserve every nomination and accolades coming their way. However, the standout performances for me were Natalia Dyer as Nancy, Joe Keery as Steve and Millie Bobby Brown as El (or Eleven, as she’s named in the show.) Dyer plays the typical middle-class teen who complains about having it so bad but is comfortable, pretty and has what you could easily think of as “1st world problems.” However, she’s best friends to Bard (played by Shannon Purser) and on the night she experiences a big change in her life loses her friends to the plot of the show and becomes the only person motivated by concern for her lost friend and guilt because her actions might have cause Bard’s loss. Joe Keery plays Nancy’s bully boyfriend who not only has a big character growth as the show goes on but actually becomes sympathetic and even a hero. However, the hardest character to do is Eleven or El. In Stranger Things El is the center of everything but only has monosyllabic dialogue and has to do the largest chunk of her action using facial expressions as body language, and Millie Bobby Brown knocks it out the park. These three characters took what could have easily been one-note characters and made them characters you look forward to seeing again and again.
Stranger Things: Thriller
This is a monster movie, folks. The kind of monster movie you get in a Stephan King novel or John Carpenter movie, and it works. In the early 1980’s the shadow organization called Hawkins National Laboratory is supposed to be doing research for the Dept. of Energy but is secretly doing research into psychic powers on special children. One of their experiments opens a portal to another dimension called “The Upside Down” and as a result, a boy named Will Byers is kidnapped by a creature that escaped the Upside-Down and the movie revolves around one of the psychic children escaping as finding Will Byers. Not to mention the looming threat of the monsters that hangs over every episode like a dread-filled fog. The story builds nicely, the creepy scenes are completely creepy and the tension hangs in the atmosphere thickening the sense of danger of dread as thing progress from bad to totally bonkers. The twists are earned and every payoff provides the kind of satisfaction usually reserved for well-made blockbusters. I’m not going to call Stranger Things a perfect series but it comes damn close to being one. This is going to be on everyone’s official “what to watch for Halloween” for years to come. Yes, Stranger Things is that good and it earned that.
Stranger Things: Hysteria
Let’s talk about Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder because aside from David Harbour there’s been a lot of discussion on Ryder’s performance. A lot of said discussion doesn’t exactly give you hope for humanity. Winona Ryder’s plays a slightly over-bearing mother type who gives you the impression she’s constantly holding onto her sanity by a shoe-string. People who call her annoying are missing the point. While she does chew up a lot of scenery, she never goes too far with the character. Joyce Byers is a mother trying her best, life not having gone exactly how she must have expected but she loves her children and is doing the best she can. Her character is the female twin to Jim Hopper (Harbour) who is the mid-life crisis version of the love child of Indiana Jones and Chief Martin Brody who suffers from a really tragic loss. Ryder does a great job and doesn’t come close to chewing the scenery that Matthew Modine did.
The real big-bad of Stranger Things is Mathew Modine. Sure, the Demigorgon (and good call back to my old D&D days, Duffers) is the monster but it only exists because of the direct and calculated action of Dr. Martin Brenner. Dr. Brenner is an Evil genious with a capital “E!” He’s one dimensional because he has to be and he’s the reason these characters lives get marked with the horror movie shit-storm that hits them with the blow of a bat of nails. Modine manages to combine a weird subtle performance to a go-hard-or-go-home role. He’s smarmy, arrogant, driven and in wields power with the precision of a slasher movie monster. He’s the villain Stranger Things needs and he’s a joy to watch as he treats human beings like lab-rats while trying to control the impossible. Funny thing is we never really know what his motivations are and we don’t care. That’s the magic of Stranger Things. Look at it this way, the DemiGorgon is the monster, Dr. Benner is Frankenstein.
Stranger Things: Glass Houses
The reaction of Lucas to El in Stranger Things annoyed the shit out of me. Let me get this straight? You are a D&D playing nerd who loves the same science fiction and comics as your other four friends and we have to play the “he-man woman hater” bullshit when the super powered girl comes along. Lucas’ instant dislike for El was supposed to be a “voice of common sense” part of the series instead came off forced and whiney. I know you have to have conflict, but this part felt the least organic to me.
Stranger Things: Synchronicity
Stranger Things is simply a cool little monster movie pretending to be an eight-episode series. It’s scary and fun, tense and bittersweet, horrifying and enjoyable. It doesn’t shy away from bloody kills but remembers it’s about the horror first. Great characters, interesting plot and the cliffhanger is a natural progression of everything that happens in the story. If you’re looking for something fun and original, you can’t go wrong watching Stranger Things.