Stranger Things: Season One

The word “pastiche” is often bandied around on this blog, having previously been applied to an iconic space-opera and a contemporary musical. It’s a term used to describe an artwork, such as a film or television programme, that takes inspiration from multiple sources, and combines them to create a unique style or genre. Perhaps the best example of a pastiche is this original series from Netflix, which is premiering its second season this weekend.

Stranger Things poster

Stranger Things is an eight-part science-fiction series created by Matt and Ross Duffer, twin brothers who are most-widely recognised for their work in the horror genre. Set during 1983, it acts as a loving homage to the popular-culture of that same period, such as the films of Steven Spielberg and the books of Stephen King. Yet the series is so much more than nostalgic throwbacks to the Eighties, and can just as easily be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with the Reagan era. For one, it has an original story.

In the mundane locale of Hawkins, Indiana, middle-school pupil Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) has been taken without a trace by a shadowy monster. His mysterious absence worries his mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) who immediately reports him missing to the local sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour, The Newsroom). Initially, Hopper suspects nothing, dismissing Will’s disappearance as a common occurrence; but after a brief encounter with the unseen monster, Jim begins taking Joyce’s concerns more seriously.

Will’s friends – Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) are just as concerned about his disappearance, even venturing into the woods to find him, only to encounter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a softly-spoken girl sporting a buzzcut. Unaware that she is an escapee from a nearby government laboratory, the boys take her to Mike’s home, where it is revealed she not only knows who Will is, but where they can locate him. What’s more, her telekinetic powers may prove useful in warding off any threats.

Stranger Things kids
Caleb McLaughlin (left), Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things

While Stranger Things is ostensibly a science-fiction programme, throwing in references to other properties whenever it can, the series has its roots in horror, and knows exactly how to freak viewers out. It does so not by soaking its protagonists in blood, but by playing upon their fear of the unknown (a la Get Out) – obscuring the monster in the darkness of night, and having it take characters whilst they are alone. With that said, the show does a fine job of applying itself to the sci-fi genre, flirting with some very interesting and obscure concepts.

And there’s much more to appreciate besides. From a technical standpoint, Strangers Things couldn’t be more perfect, with the pacing, cinematography and effects all being outstanding. The electronic soundtrack, by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, is equally delightful, matching perfectly with the aesthetics of the era; talking of which, the series has also nailed the visual style of the Eighties, including the clothing, technology and vehicles. It even utilises the storytelling tropes of that period, which are rarely overused – it’s only during the sixth chapter, “The Monster” that these clichés become too much.

Stranger Things - Ryder
Winona Ryder is magnificent as Joyce Byers

Yet the most incredible aspect of Stranger Things, by far, is its cast. The acting of the young protagonists is phenomenally good, all of whom are charming, believable and put in a better effort than many of the adults. Not included in that group of grown-ups is David Harbour – despite this being his first time as a male lead, he performs the role of Sheriff Hopper with considerable ease. And then, in a league of her own is Winona Ryder, acting her heart out. Her performance as Joyce Byers is one of utter magnificence, with every pained expression looking more convincing than the last.

Those looking for a reason to create a Netflix account need look no further. In a run of just eight episodes, Stranger Things has established itself as one of the decade’s greatest programmes, if not the best. Its gripping story, clever references and stellar performances all make it a must-watch for everybody, not just sci-fi or horror fans. Bring on Season Two!


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