‘Stranger Things’ Netflix Original Review
Social cliques, bullies, first love, friendship, telekinetic children, flesh eating creatures ripped from nightmares of the most deranged mind; all the good stuff that made high school a tremendous time in our lives come into play in the new Netflix original sci-fi horror series Stranger Things.
In the first minutes of Stranger Things anyone familiar with the sci-fi horror hits of the late 70s, early 80s will settle in for a familiar ride. The series was touted as an homage to Steven Spielberg’s classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but do you need to have experience with those touch points to enjoy the series? Absolutely not. Stranger Things excels at creating a world grounded in reality full of characters you want to root for and spend time with moving through a story you don’t want to end.
The series starts out with the disappearance of middle school student, Will, following a game of basement Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. As Will goes missing, his friends set out to find him, ignoring pleas from parents and police, and discover walking alone in the woods, the mysterious girl known only as Eleven, due to a tattoo on her forearm.
The next eight hours are dedicated to finding Will. During that time, more people go missing, government secrets are revealed, characters are made human, and the viewer experiences one of the most engrossing Netflix series to date.
The child led cast comes off more Stand By Me than The Goonies including a few ‘walking along the railroad track’ scenes as a nod to Stephan King’s book. While the series does offer fleeting moments of humor, it is intensely dark and the child actors play their parts very well. As in most of the 80s movies the series harkens back to, Will’s three best friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin, learn early that adults only mess things up and they will have to save the day themselves. Even with a soundtrack featuring Reagan Youth, ‘kids not listening to adults’ is probably the most 80s thing about the series. There are even subtle jabs at living in suburbia to really round out the classic sci-fi movie feel.
The series features outstanding performances. The children leads, Finn Wolfherd (Mike), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) click so well it feels like they were three buddies before the series even filmed. The enigmatic Eleven is brought to screen by Millie Bobbie Brown, and judging by the performance she gives here her name will be heard more and more. Winona Ryder is back as a slightly crazy mom. David Harbour as police chief Hopper is defining the role of skeptical police officer turned believer. Matthew Modine shows once again that given good direction he can be amazing and does so quite well as the series’ bad guy.
The only drawback to Stranger Things is we only have eight episodes to watch. Had the series been 10 episodes it may have felt drawn-out, as an hour and a half movie it would have robbed the audience of so many stunning set pieces and character development. For eight episodes, we get a story that is clearly made with love and a care for the films that influenced it. We get actors who know their characters and bring them life. We get phenomenal direction, cinematography, and even costuming that is top notch. Stranger Things is so good even the title sequence is entertaining.
At the end of episode eight, the story feels completely resolved and like it is just beginning. This is one of the best series Netflix has put out yet.
Stranger Things is among the best Netflix offerings to date.