This review was originally published on CinemAbysmal
Stranger Things (2016) – Science Fiction | Horror
Created by: The Duffer Brothers
Starring: David Harbour and Winona Ryder
How I Watched: Netflix
Best Line: “Mouth-breather.”
Stranger Things is technically a television program. What it plays like, however, is the best 7-hour movie that you’ve never seen. For this reason, I have decided to review the series as a film. Stranger Things begins all too familiar. We are immediately reminded of the Spielberg family-scapes of a 1980’s suburbia and given to a not-so-motley crew of nerdy kids that even The Goonies would probably bully. The 80’s worship does not stop there, though. Everyone enjoys a good helping of neon, John Hughes inspired feels and a good Reagan-era pop hit, but Stranger Things takes the decade and molds the story around it.
I was born in the 1980’s. Before I was 5, though, they were over. I can’t really say I know what the decade was actually like, but I’ve always felt a strange kinship to its music, movies and pop culture. So whenever someone makes the creative choice of setting their story in the 80’s, I’m usually intrigued. Donnie Darko did an excellent job making you feel like you were watching something made in the 1980’s and Stranger Things is no different. The music is blissfully extreme in its synth-heavy soundscape, evoking the most insane crescendos in John Carpenter films. The characters’ fashion choices are tamed but convincing, and even a lot of the architecture looks as though it was ripped from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder hold their respective places in 1980’s filmdom. Ryder is excellent as a grieving mother in the series, slowly descending into understandable craziness while she desperately searches for her son. Modine plays a soft-spoken and mysterious doctor in a laboratory on the outskirts of town, and his looming, often creepy presence grows as the show progresses. Perhaps the most impressive character among the show’s adults, though, is that of David Harbour’s Sherriff Jim Hopper. We’ve all seen Harbour before in small parts (TV and film) but this is really a breakout role for him, as he excellently guides the cast through the series’ ups and downs.
The real stars of the series though, are the four geeky kids mentioned earlier. Never have I been more impressed with children acting than I have with Stranger Things. Led by the spectacular Finn Wolfhard as Mike (who has been cast as Richie Tozier in the new 2017 incarnation of IT), these three boys never give up looking for their friend Will who goes missing in the first installment. Will does not get much screen time, but when he does, he steals every frame. The actors playing Dustin and Lucas are excellent as well, battling bullies and difficulties of middle school life as D&D loving dorks. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is also a really cool character and the focus on her storyline grows throughout the series.
I think what impressed me most about Stranger Things was its ability to take so liberally from those projects that inspired it, and make it its own original story. At times, you’ll feel you’ve seen certain scenes before, whether it’s the bike chase scene in E.T., an alternate universe in Poltergeist or Under the Skin, telekinetic abilities in Stephen King stories like Carrie, a synth-heavy montage in a Carpenter flick…the list goes on and on. Once you watch it yourself, you’ll probably even discover nods yourself that I never would have thought of. It’s really incredible how well the Duffers acknowledge their influences in this.
It’s hard to put into words how much I really loved Stranger Things. It’s become so easy to just sit for hours and “binge” on shows featured on Netflix. But when a project like this comes out and there are only eight nearly hour-long episodes, it really becomes a feature film. A couple “episodes” in, you’re going to be facing a tough choice, just like I did: “I know it’s late, but this is so damn good. I need to finish this.” I suggest you do just that before someone ruins Stranger Things for you.
Final Score: 4/4
Similar Films: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, The Goonies, Poltergeist