Stranger Things is a show about many things. Mostly, it’s a homage to Classic 80’s Spielbergian filmmaking, and at other times it plays like a mix between Stephen King and Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (This is a better adaptation of the Goosebumps than that good-but-not great movie that released last year) with even a dash of Lovecraftian horror thrown in by way of Guillermo Del Toro.
Hell, come to think of it, the show also at times feels like an early John Hughes film; but even with all the homages, perhaps the most surprising thing here is that, the show actually manages to be wholly original in its own right, and is also, pretty damn fantastic. This show kicks all sorts of ass and is easily my favourite original show of 2016. ( With The Night Manager a close second)
The series is set in the idyllic small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, and follows the life of four kids, one of whom disappears under extremely mysterious circumstances. As I’ve made a habit of it on my previous reviews, I will not divulge any further plot details, and trust me, once you see the show for yourself, you’ll be glad I didn’t.
Let me start by relaying what I loved most in this show – the cinematography. This show actually LOOKS like it from the 80’s and I’m not just talking about the sets and overall production design (which, by the way, is painstakingly detailed. Nothing here feels remotely anachronistic), but the way it’s actually shot. It doesn’t feel like it’s shot using HD cameras, rather it has that sort of slightly blurry, yet extremely clear visual that was predominant in movies three decades ago. This is a brilliant decision by The Duffer Brothers (Creators and showrunners of this show), who uses the cinematography to great effect especially during some sequences that I’m not going to spoil here. The music further reinforces the notion of the time, with an amazing synth score that could have fit perfectly in a John Carpenter film. The opening title sequence in particular marries the both the visual element (complete with film grains ) and the awesome synth score to give one of the best opening sequences that I’ve ever witnessed for a show. So much so that I never skipped the title sequence even once during all 8 episodes, something that I’ve only reserved for Game of Thrones and Daredevil.
The acting here is brilliant as well, with the four principal child actors turning in very naturalistic and surprisingly nuanced performances, the kind of child performances that are commonplace in a Spielberg film. The kids here aren’t dumb, and are as, if not more, competent than the adults, which, by the way, was extremely refreshing. Special standouts are Gaten matarazzo as Dustin and Millie Brown as a mysterious character named Eleven. Millie Brown especially, blew me away with a performance that is so complex and subtle, that I couldn’t believe that she was just 12 years old. She’s definitely one to watch out for.
The adult actors are also great, With Winona Ryder and David Harbour giving excellent performances.
More than everything I mentioned above though, what was really surprising about this show was just how great the core story was. It kept me intrigued, thrilled and at times, downright creeped out with it’s excellent use of suspense and light horror. It took me back to the times when I would crawl into bed and read Goosebumps stories till the wee hours of the night. Also, the pacing is nothing short of brilliant in this show, with none of the 8 episodes released ever feeling dragged out or slow, and this contributes to the show possessing an amazing rewatchability factor.
If I had to pick out one negative though, it would be that the show’s dialogues can get a bit clunky at times, but then again, they get only as clunky as actual films from the 80’s so it’s hard for me to pinpoint if it’s actually a negative or not. Either way, it’s a very minor nitpick for a show that is much more amazing than it has any right of being.
I’ll go as far to say that, along with Narcos and Daredevil, this is one show that’s actually worth subscribing to Netflix for. It’s simply that good.