Stranger Things the new Netflix original miniseries debuted last weekend, and after hearing some great things on Twitter I decided I had to watch it. It’s a science fiction/horror series where a young boy disappears, just as a telekinetic girl arrives.
The show offers a great mystery that gets unraveled over the 8 episodes, what happened to the young boy, what is there in the past of this girl. Reminiscent of both great director Steven Spielberg and author Stephen King, this is a series that taps into that Spielberg wonder and combines it with King’s creepy horror sensibilities. The show really has the feel of those Spielberg classics like ET or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and does a better job of reliving the tone of these than the good, but not great, Super 8 or Midnight Special. It also really brings the feel of the 80s and almost invokes Stand By Me or The Goonies, except with the science fiction elements.
One of the huge strengths of Stranger Things is the character arcs. At the start many of the characters actually seem like fairly stereotypical characters that you see. There’s the group of nerds, the outsider kid, the jock, the overworked mum, the studious girl, the alcoholic police chief. But over the course of the 8 episodes they all have really strong stories, and we really learn a lot more about them. I also think that the cast they show brought in is fantastic, especially when you consider how many of the cast are young children.
Winona Ryder as Joyce, the mother of the boy who goes missing, is of course the big name attached to the project. And whilst she is good, I think that some of the more unknown actors actually steal the show. Millie Bobby Brown as the young girl, Eleven, is breathtaking. She has so few lines in the show, especially early on, and yet she manages to be so expressive and bring so much across without vocals. The trio of young boys who find her, played by Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin are all excellent. I also think that David Harbour as police chief Jim Hopper deserves huge praise for his performance as he brings a real depth to a character who could easily have just been a cliché.
I was hugely impressed with the pacing of the show. At only 8 episodes there isn’t any extraneous filler, which there often is with 13 episode series, or even Game of Thrones’ 10. The meant that you were kept genuinely engaged throughout. This was helped by the fact that the story didn’t overly rely on exposition, instead showing you the story through flashbacks, and allowing the audience to work out what is going on for themselves. Whilst the ending may have turned out a little predictable, it was still a fulfilling and genuinely moving end to the show. I didn’t actually find the horror elements of the show scary, but that didn’t detract from the show for me.
Finally one of the key aspects of the film that works so well is the music. I believe that Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon composed all of the original music for the show. The created so much original music for the show, and it fits so perfectly with the scenes, whether it is a horror, Sci-Fi, or adventure moment. So kudos to you Matt and Ross Duffer, you managed to create a show I just loved, got completely caught up and immersed in, and just couldn’t stop watching. It is such a great call back to the films and TV of the 80s that even as someone who wasn’t born until the 90s, you can feel the stamp of that era on it. Up there as one of my favourite shows of the year, and a fantastically self contained story.