I knew nothing about Netflix’s new show Stranger Things going in. Other than it stars Winona Ryder and involves the disappearance of a kid named Will Byers. Still, something about the classic painted ’80s movie poster and Stephen King titling called out to me. Like an old poltergeist through the TV.
Stranger Things is set in 1983, in the fictional Indiana city of Hawkins. And straight away, the opening scene sucked me right in, with its ’80s banana-seat bikes and BMXs with mounted headlights, and its perfectly cast Goonies crew of heroic high school outsiders. The nostalgia reminded me of J.J. Abrams’ 2011 film Super 8 – before it went on to horribly disappoint me.
The creepy, incredibly shot sequence of events that leads to – what seems like – one of the lead character’s disappearance in “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers” has a spooky Stephen King quality that adds to the authenticity and intrigue. And by the time the glowing red letters of Strangers Things had rearranged themselves to some perfectly eerie ’80s synths in the post-intro title sequence, I was hooked.
Without giving too much away, lovable high school geek Will Byers goes missing and is presumed dead. However, his mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, is convinced he’s still alive in some kind of upside down alternate reality and communicating with her through lights.
Meanwhile, Will’s friends ride around on bikes trying to find him with the help of their mysterious new friend Eleven, who broke out of a weird government test facility and has some Heroes-like psychokinetic abilities. Then there’s the trigger-happy evil government agents, who will stop at nothing to get Eleven back. And broken down police chief Jim Hopper – played by Josh Brolin-ish David Harbour – who is battling his own demons and finds himself caught in the middle of it all.
The reason the show works so well, really, is its attention to detail. Its heart. Its personality. Mysterious-sounding show creators the Duffer brothers are clearly fans of the same golden ’80s pop culture references I grew up with; Steven Spielberg. Stephen King. John Carpenter. E.T. The Goonies. Stand by Me. Gremlins. Poltergeist. Dungeons & Dragons. Walkie talkies… And everything from the music to the cast, costumes and characters is just so well put together, well thought out and authentic.
The kids are extremely likable. Perfect heroic misfits straight out of an ’80s classic. Newcomer Finn Wolfhard, who plays one of the actual leads Mike Wheeler, one of Will’s three best friends, acts everyone else off the screen. Millie Bobby Brown, however, who plays mysterious, stone-faced female outsider with special powers Eleven, provides perfect backup.
Everyone else is good as well, really, but my favourite character is Will’s friend “Toothless,” who has cleidocranial dysplasia and, as a result, no front teeth. Dustin Henderson, who plays the perfectly named character, is probably the most legit ’80s movie adventure detail about Stranger Things.
I think it’s the fact that Stranger Things has got this feelgood Steven Spielberg family movie heart, coupled with the fact that it actually does get pretty dark, creepy, sinister – and even Guillermo del Toro-ish – that makes it so captivating. It’s all in the atmosphere.
The original music, by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin, Texas-based synth band S U R V I V E, is incredible. As are song choices like Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” In the end, all the ingredients are just right. And unlike cheap, nostalgia-mining reboots, Stranger Things is instantly familiar yet hip, modern, stylish and original.