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Review: Stranger Things Just Might Be The Best Show This Year

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Imagine if John Hughes, David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Stephen King were somehow morphed into one all mighty super being and made to write an eight episode Netflix series. That’s what we get in Stranger Things, a dream come true 80’s nostalgia trip full of allusions to the great horror and kids movies of the time.

It’s centered around a Goonies style group of D&D playing boys who become embroiled in a dark sci fi mystery when one of them disappears. Wynona Rider is amazing as the boy’s mother, desperately searching for answers. The less well known David Harbour also deserves award winning praise as the sheriff uncovering the ever deepening secrets surrounding the disappearance, a telekinetic girl and a very creepy monster.

One of the great things about Stranger Things is unlike many mystery shows it sets up questions and actually answers them. Well, for the most part at least. They had to leave something for season 2.

The cast is perfect. It’s not often you can say in horror that every character is so likeable that you pray everything ends in a bloodless resolution. Even the bullies don’t deserve to die. This makes the show that much more tense. The one exception is Mathew Modine’s evil government scientist. He is by far the least complex character. He doesn’t say much, just looks cruel and does awful things without giving us any motivation. It might look like bad writing but harks back to the trope of villainous officials seen in the movies that this show is so inspired by.

It’s best watched in a dark room to get the most out of the vivid colours and gorgeous lighting (and of course the scares.) There’s a lot of flickering light, which looks great and is complimented so awesomely by the soundtrack. However towards the end there is a migraine inducing over reliance on strobing. The effect does make sense in terms of plot and the show’s allusions to Alien. Unfortunately it is quite distracting from the action and important emotional exchanges on screen.

Stranger Things Review 2

The nostalgic atmosphere relies a lot on the synth pop rock soundtrack. There is so much synth. So much that if you’re planning to binge watch you may feel bombarded by the way it pervades practically every scene. Luckily this never gets irritating as the score is like John Carpenter’s wet dream. (Sorry for that visual image.) Besides the smooth electronica, the score also evokes Aphex Twin’s nightmarish industrial style.

Those familiar with 80’s US pop culture and those who lived through it will get the most out of all of the homages the show makes. The episode credits are reminiscent of Friday the 13th. The characters watch The Thing and Poltergeist, movies that the show borrows heavily from. There’s a bike chase ripped straight out of E.T. Shots from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Stand By Me are lovingly replicated. Not only that, aspects of everyday 80’s life are perfectly recreated. Yet this doesn’t feel like a real world, but one made up of fragments of other 80’s movie universes. The show’s logic is 80’s movie logic. Not that that’s a bad thing.

You’d think taking apart and reassembling moments from films like the Goonies and Alien would create a mix that just doesn’t work tonally. But it does. There are scenes that naturally flow from funny to terrifying. Even though the show can get very dark there are also moments that are absolutely hilarious, particular the conversations between kids. Each of them have excellent comic skills while still convincing us of the horrifying tension of their situation.

This might be the best show this year. It’s tempting to call it child friendly but there are moments so horrific it would be hard justifying showing it to any but the bravest of young viewers. Though speaking as someone who secretly watched late night horror as a kid, I would have felt very lucky to find Stranger Things on TV while growing up.

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