Netflix’s latest binge-worthy original series, is a concoction of various 80s science fiction movies, and whilst it perfectly encapsulates the vibe of those films from that period, it wholly manages to feel fresh in its own right.
One might allude to J.J. Abrams’ 2011 film Super 8 when discussing modern films that pay homage to 80s style science fiction, but for Stranger Things, the allusions amount to more than just pop culture references. The show manages to be entirely unique while maintaining what was loved about science fiction and monster movies from that that era, resulting in a completely engrossing experience that’ll make you want to shut your curtains and sit in front of the telly all day, even in the height of summer.
Set in the quiet town of Hawkins, Indiana, during late 1983, Stranger Things’ setting is as much its substance as it is its style, as the series from the Duffer brothers seeks to resurrect genre cinema from the likes of Spielberg, Lynch and Cronenberg. But the show isn’t just about mimicking what was popular about those types of movies, rather it feels more like it belonged in that era, as opposed to something that pays homage to it. The accuracy at which Stranger Things embodies not just the visual elements, but the soul of the likes of The Fly, E.T. and The Goonies goes beyond any aesthetic observation and is instead a genuine piece of the tradition, only made 30 years after its time.
Stranger Things understands the language of genre storytelling, and this allows it to successfully present itself as a work which personifies everything enjoyable about 80s genre cinema, whilst generally avoiding clichés and gimmicks. Starting with the disappearance of local boy Will Byers, it is not long before we are thrust into the world of the supernatural. As the boy’s family and friends search for answers, they mistakenly trigger a horrific chain of events, as a mystery of nightmarish potential begins to unravel. The shady government building that seems to operate unchecked on the edge of town, and the appearance of a mysterious young girl with a shaved head add the perfect amount of tension, intrigue and suspense to a genuinely unsettling story.
Although Stranger Things does the work of harnessing genre stereotypes extremely well, it is perhaps the bond between the main group of friends and their positions as rank outsiders that is most captivating. Straight off the bat, we understand that Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) are different to the rest of the kids they go to school with. Dustin stands shamefully, as he is forced to make the weird clicking sound in his arm by school bullies, who then shudder in disgust when he does so. “I think it’s cool,” says Mike, the natural leader of the group, comfortingly. “It’s like your super power!”
This scene occurs before anything supernatural is witnessed, but one that has most resonance throughout the show. Yes, monsters, the unknown and weird little girls with telekinetic powers are arguably the spine of Stranger Things, but the show engages us in a larger, more poignant idea. The idea that outsiders can do great things, and that the power of friendship trumps everything else. Even Will’s older brother, Jonathan, himself a loner, has moments of unrivalled heroism, in which he shows strength, resolve and intelligence to help uncover the mysteries that surround Hawkins. In this world, it is very much the freaks who save the day.
In terms of the quality of the show, Stranger Things regularly delivers information and reveals plot points at a pace that moves the series on nicely. Although eight episodes feels short by today’s standards of high quality television, the expertly directed series is as good
as Netflix’s original programming has ever been, and only builds upon the streaming service’s unprecedented knack for giving lesser known talent a platform for creating and exhibiting great content.
Stranger Things is, on its surface, a brilliant piece of genre storytelling. The Duffer Brothers have expertly captured everything good about 80s science fiction cinema, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this show was actually produced during that era. Far from a period piece, and more than just a fright-fest, Stranger Things teaches us the value of friendship and trust. It is arguably the unbreakable bond between Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will that is the most impressive superpower on display.
Catch the entire first season of Stranger Things on Netflix, now.