“STRANGER THINGS” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
In this current climate of the entertainment industry, it’s no surprise that genre filmmakers tend to use nostalgia to their advantage, as, sadly, so few fright fans are willing to give wholly original work a fair shake. While sometimes this leads to grating, overused genre tropes from yesteryear getting another chance to shine, filmmakers who learn from their inspirations and apply it in earnest can create something very special. Luckily, STRANGER THINGS absolutely falls in the latter category, crafting a story evocative of Stephen King and ’80s supernatural thriller pulp novels that balances brilliant character work and gripping genre storytelling effortlessly.
In terms of central narrative, STRANGER THINGS certainly feels old at heart: after a game of Dungeons & Dragons with his best friends, a young boy encounters a strange creature and vanishes into thin air. As the search for the boy goes on, his friends discover a scared young girl in the woods and discovers she has extraordinary abilities. Soon, the boys realize the appearance and disappearance are connected, and while various townsfolk come together over these incidents, a dangerous shadow organization looks to find the girl by any means necessary.
In simpler terms, STRANGER THINGS is outright phenomenal, with a genuine sense of heart and respect for the many genres it traverses, from sci-fi to horror to drama. There’s a real understanding of story in STRANGER THINGS as well: every character gets a moment to shine, and every arc feels organic in nature. Beyond that, STRANGER THINGS never finds a lull, keeping up the action, fun, and curiosity with every turn, and no twist ever feels revealed for shock value alone. In fact, STRANGER THINGS might be the first binge-worthy genre series offered in the format, as the story- much like the page-turning mystery novels it pays homage towards- will keep you coming back for more with each episode.
STRANGER THINGS handles the genre elements of the series fantastically as well. Although the show doesn’t offer the buckets of blood one might expect on THE WALKING DEAD or ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, STRANGER THINGS instead dabbles in the eerie and intense quite efficiently, offering real stakes and peril through the few peaks we see at what the villains can do. Equally as great is that STRANGER THINGS knows when to use the horror to its advantage; the series isn’t just monsters and mayhem 24/7, but allows the creatures to come out when the story works in their favor. And while some may gripe about the CGI on display, the narrative is so damn strong that the CGI almost becomes an afterthought with the atmosphere doing the lion’s share of the scares anyways.
STRANGER THINGS also works fantastically to show off its incredible ensemble cast, especially the powerful performances from its young cast. From Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp, STRANGER THINGS offers some of the best young performances in genre fare in recent memory, with real chemistry, emotion, and confidence one often expects from seasoned acting veterans. Meanwhile, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Matthew Modine, and the rest of the adult cast all offer fantastic, multi-faceted performance, much of which actively subverts some of the character stereotypes from the ’80s.
Overall, STRANGER THINGS is the real deal; a contemporary genre series that feels classic in nature, which is a true testament to the talents of The Duffer Brothers. If anything, the only real conceivable problem with STRANGER THINGS is that there’s not more of it right now, which will make the wait for the potential second season all the more difficult.