To prove that nostalgia is close to becoming a genre itself, we don’t need to look any further than Stranger Things.
The series plays like a 80’s adventure movie, taking place in Hawkins, Indiana in November 1983 and starting with the disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Enter Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), divorced mother of two, following the clues to her son, as unlikely and illogical as they could be. Local Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is eager to put the case to rest, but as a parent who lost his own daughter, he’s slowly realizing there might be more to this disappearance than a simple accident.
Meanwhile, Will’s friends are also doing their own search. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) cover a lot of terrain in their bikes, but instead of finding their friend they run into another fugitive, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Eleven is young girl that seems to have grown up inside a lab and have some secret abilities. She’s running away from Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). She’s also not the only fugitive from the Department of Energy’s facilities in town. The other fugitive is lot more hostile.
Joyce’s other son, outsider Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), has issues of his own. He’s the quiet type with a stalk-level crush on Mike’s sister, Nancy Wheeler (Nathalia Dyer). Nancy however is going out with bad boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) who doesn’t like Jonathan one bit. However, when Nancy’s best friend Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) disappears, Nancy and Jonathan will have to form an unlikely alliance as they come up against something that they can’t explain.
That’s as much as I want to reveal. Netflix’s latest hit, written, produced and directed by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross) along with Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen seems to hit every note right down to the details. It’s got the ambiance, the lighting, the cast, the music swells up and even the font from the 80’s movie era. It’s horror and science-fiction with a dosage of fantasy added for good measure. Carefully balancing its cast, we may have Winona Ryder and David Harbour as main leads but the real scene-stealers are the kids. Mike, Dustin, Lucas and their guest Eleven are the real stars of the show as they have to battle bullies, hide the truth from their parents, and run away from a secret government agency determined to cover everything up. With scenes that could’ve been part of the Goonies, E.T and perhaps a bit of Akira, there’s definitely some Spielberg-esque influence in the making but the series is not rehashing any plot points from days gone by. It makes strides of its own.
Trust me, it’s good. There’s a raw quality to it that gives it that kids-are-smart adults-dont-get-it feel that tugs at your heartstrings. Is the movie just playing emotional blackmail with you? Perhaps. Would you care the same if it was a group of teenagers in New York? Perhaps not. Stripped of all the nostalgia, there’s still a story to tell, although the idea of the fantastic does ask a lot of your ability for suspension of disbelief. There’s a monster out there of a nature that seems to tear at the fabric of reality. It’s horror at the door, and we got elementary school kids on bikes. If this was taking place on any other movie, it would be carnage and gore. Instead we’re given an adventure where the danger is palpable but friendship is crucial. Definitely a nostalgia vehicle, but one built on a solid, albeit fantasy-filled, story.
Highs: The show balances its casting well. Great performances by Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Charlie Heaton and Nathalia Dyer. However, it’s the kids that steal the show. Millie Bobby Brown shines as Eleven. So do Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin as Will’s friends. Hawkins, Indiana would easily would fit in a Stephen King novel or as the setting of a Steven Spielberg movie.
Lows: The nature of the monster is a bit of a reality stretch. The horror genre might be over the top for kids of the same age that we see in the movie, meaning that kids of that age might be too young to see this series. The story line does leave some loose ends, which we hope can be addressed on a second season. On second thought, that might not be a low point after all. The ending for Eleven specially was a mixed bag, but perhaps that could also change *hint*.
Extremely recommended for 80’s kids fans of horror and science fiction, but it might be too much for today’s. In case that’s not clear, that means adults that were kids on the 80’s will like it but they might have to tell their own kids to leave the room.
That will do for now.