TV: Stranger Things season 1 (2016)

strangerthings1creators: Matt & Ross Duffer
language: English
length: 8 episodes of variable length, 442 minutes total (7 hours and 22 minutes)
finished watching on: 12 September 2016

I was a little late to the game with this one, I guess, but everyone was talking about it this summer. It’s actually set in November, so maybe we should be watching it now, but Netflix apparently likes to release things all at once rather than teasing it out over the course of weeks (which is a blessing and a curse). No, even then it’s a short series and would have been over pretty quickly during the summer.

I usually say that I don’t like horror movies, but I already broke that edict watching such things as The Descent recently. The horror in this is reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, actually, although I remember finding that difficult to watch and not enjoying it much. In this series it’s the first episode that is the most creepy, as once we get used to the setting and characters it takes the edge off the scary elements, even as they ramp up towards the end of the series. I actually found Orphan Black creepier this year, perhaps because there’s a persistent sense of threat in that series.

I don’t think I need to summarize Stranger Things too much, because I think most people have seen it already, but just in case, it’s the story of a boy who goes missing, and the people – his family and friends mainly – who look for him. With supernatural stuff thrown in. It’s too complicated to explain beyond that without giving spoilers. That said, I’m pretty much going to do just that. So if you haven’t watched it yet, I’d suggest doing that before reading the rest of this.

The series is set in the 1980s, and takes great pains to show us so. This is to do with the creators’ upbringing mainly, but also draws to mind classics such as E.T. and other horroresque or alien children’s movies. A lot of the 80s stuff felt tokenistic, as if to draw a chuckle from modern audiences, like the phones that are connected by wire to the wall, or a lot of the other technology the children use, or indeed can’t use because it hasn’t been invented yet. Walkie-talkies are another good example. But at the same time, they integrated all the stuff well into the story.

Music is also very important, and one leitmotif that often comes up is the song Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash – indeed, I’ll never think of the song the same way again. Once we find out about the Upsidedown, and actually see inside the eldritch world, the sound design comes into its own, too.

When I saw the first episode, and there was this giant alien portal in the government compound, I thought they’d given away too many of their cards too early in the show. But as I watched it a bit more, I realized that we really don’t know what’s going on, not really. We’re thrown hints, mere morsels, from time to time, but the monster isn’t, and we don’t understand what’s really going on with the mum’s lights until the final episode, and then you’re like “Ohhhh!”. I had a few theories as to what was going on, but none of them were correct. I think this is a good way to tell good stories.

As for the characters, everyone was a superb actor in this. The kids are all great in it, and really steal the show, and make it what it is. I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised – there are too many cases where the kid actors in something don’t do a good job. They seem to be genuinely nice people too – I hope the fame doesn’t go to their heads. But the teenagers are also important to the story, and Winona Ryder as the haggard mother really puts in a good performance, if slightly over-acted.

And finally, the ending was bittersweet, and I hope good things happen in the next series. So if you’ve gotten this far, tell me your favourite bit. Or go out and watch it if you haven’t already!


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