I had absolutely no expectations going into Stranger Things. I’d never heard of it, seen none of the previews and read nothing online about it before hand. In fact, the first time the name was brought to my attention was Friday morning when my 11-year-old son woke me up at 7am telling me about this “awesome show” he’d just seen a preview for while binging some cartoons on Netflix. I’ve been an evening shift flunky for a decade and joining the world of the living before 9 is always a struggle for me but he seemed so insistent that I had to get up and eat a bowl of cereal as we watched the first episode.
Opening in a secret government lab in November of 1983 with a panicked doctor running down a dark hall with flickering, strobing lights, my curiosity was immediately piqued. A shadowy government research lab, some unseen but already terrifying monster slaughtering staff as it escapes into the woods of a quiet, nearby little town, it all felt like a Creepy Pasta come to life on my television screen. Segue next to the basement lair of a group of middle school boys deep in the midst of another epic Dungeons & Dragons quest before they all have to ride home on their bikes, unaware that the “Demogorgon” they’d just battled on their grid paper might not be the worst monster they face.
The screen is black as a haunting, 80’s nostalgic opening begins. The deep, basso hum of the synthesizer as large red letters drift into the shot and form the opening title.
Almost instantly I felt like I was a kid again, watching It or Pet Sematary for the very first time. It was an atmospheric opening, between the power of the scenes that started the episode and the opening title that seemed to gently push me back into my couch and hooked so hard that I couldn’t stop until I’d finished the whole season. Now, that said, I’m going to try and tell you as much about this story as I can with as few spoilers as possible but, if you’re worried I’m going to ruin it for you, stop everything you’re doing and go watch it.
Mike Wheeler is the dungeon master and unofficial leader of the band of misfits and outcasts he calls friends followed by Lucas Sinclair, the slightly hot headed second banana, Dustin “Toothless” Henderson, a comical little boy who really steals the show and serves as a kind-hearted voice of reason, and Will Byers, the small, sickly-seeming would-be wizard of the troop from the wrong side of the tracks. When Will goes missing, swallowed by some black and foreboding monster from a parallel universe that has infiltrated the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, his friends embark on a real quest to find him. Meanwhile, a peculiar little girl wanders up to a small burger joint on the outskirts of town with a shaved head, a hospital gown, and a tattoo of the number 11 on her wrist.
What follows are a series of assaults by shadowy government agents trying to capture the little girl and lock her away because of a special talent tortured into her by the same agents who are hunting her like a wild animal. Will’s older brother Jonathan, his mother Joyce, and chief of police Hopper begin their own investigations, official and unofficial, into Will’s disappearance and a string of unexplained deaths and disappearances that soon descend on the quiet town of Hawkins. As Mike and his band discover and befriend the mysterious young girl known only as Eleven, Chief Hopper and Mike’s older sister Nancy both stumble inadvertently into the strange and nebulous parallel universe slowly encroaching into their own reality.
The Duffer Brothers, who I’d never heard of before watching this show, have made quite a name for themselves in the last year or so writing and producing on such projects as Wayward Pines, We All Fall Down, and Hidden to name a few and I have to say that, after watching Stranger Things, I intend to go back and watch some of their other films and shows because they are an amazing duo. Creators, writers, and directors of this series, they set a clear tone and atmosphere from the very first shot until the very last that is absolutely mesmerizing.
While there weren’t any moments that outright scared me or creeped me out, there were lots of strange, unsettling shots and scenes, especially after we’re introduced to the dark and dismal parallel universe of the Upside Down. Atmospheric is really the only word I can use to describe this story. You’re not just watching this adventure, you’re really experiencing it.
There were elements, from ideas explored to the way particular scenes were shot, that were reminiscent of so many other milestones in science fiction and horror over the last thirty years. With references to The Evil Dead and The Thing and influences that will remind gamers and geeks of X-Files, Silent Hill, and Stand By Me or It, the show casts a wide net and could easily reel in a huge audience of fans running the gamut from casual watchers to hardcore horror and sci-fi fanatics. This is really the sort of thing I’ve been waiting for in the last few years. Intelligently written with deep characterization, coherent storytelling, and impeccable acting and directing, I just can’t say enough good things about this show.
With all the suspense and intensity that Stranger Things delivers, it would have been easy to end the season on a cliffhanger and leave expectant fans anxiously waiting for another year while production of a second season is negotiated, written and shot. Thankfully, for those of us who would probably have stroked out and died over those unanswered questions ringing in our heads, we were treated to a subdued, almost gentle end. We see our characters reunited, their lives going back to normal… or as close to normal as they can ever hope to be, with an unsettling sense inside all of them that this has only been the beginning of something larger and potentially more horrific.
I really don’t feel like I can do this show justice. As a writer and a fan of that weird, otherworldly genre blend of horror and science fiction, this has literally been the most amazing thing I’ve seen since I watched the first episode of the X-Files when I was a kid. Trust me when I say that you won’t be disappointed.