Anyone who follows me on Twitter (and if you don’t, you really should) will know that this week I have been mostly watching STRANGER THINGS. You’ll also know that I think STRANGER THINGS is amazing.
The set up to THINGS is comfortingly familiar. Set in 1983, small-town America, the central premise of the story concerns the disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers. Following a games session with his friends, he simply vanishes, and the early plot revolves around the town’s efforts to track him down. We’re treated to a dysfunctional and disparate group of no-hopers; from Will’s down-and-out mother Joyce Byers (played by Winona Ryder), to Jim Hopper (David Harbour), to Will’s underdog friendship group. Things are complicated by the presence of a mysterious stranger known as Eleven, whose appearance seems to coincide with Will’s disappearance…
From the opening credits to the nerves-on-edge soundtrack, STRANGER THINGS plays out like a homage to 1980s horror and thriller movies. It literally drips with atmosphere; the appearance of the title card, accompanied by the chilling intro music, is instantly iconic. THINGS is more than just a homage, really: it actually feels like it fits into those classic horror-thrillers that we all so fondly remember.
The difficulty with so many thriller-serials (if that’s even the right description?) is that they usually throw out dozens of plot lines, but then fail to adequately resolve them. A good example of this problem is LOST: so many ideas out there, but so few actually satisfying resolved. Another recent example of “resolution-failure” is THE LEFTOVERS, a series that I initially really bought into but eventually gave up on because nothing seemed to progress. Although I’m a viewer and reader who can accept that not everything needs to be resolved (hey, I loved the classic TWILIGHT ZONE) a series like this needs a satisfying conclusion. Viewers don’t like the idea of investing in a series, only to find that their precious leisure time has been wasted on an unresolved plot. Part way through STRANGER THINGS, I became suspicious that it might be one of those serials. I’m very pleased to say that it actually isn’t. THINGS does a great job of resolving the central mystery of the series, whilst never feeling as though it forces that conclusion. (The final episode even pokes fun at some of the loose plot threads.)
The casting in STRANGER THINGS is also very strong. I would never have cast Ryder in the role of Joyce Byers, but she owns it. Her portrayal of the shuffling, desperate mother is entirely convincing; her descent into near-madness (keenly aided by the mysterious government-men) is equally convincing. The other standout character is Hooper – the drunk police chief – and these two characters really drove the show for me.
The focus on Will Byers’ friendship group will be a familiar choice for many viewers: feeling in equal parts Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. Elements of STRANGER THINGS reminded me of SUPER 8, although THINGS is far superior in most respects. The storyline and characters feel as though they have been plucked straight from a King novel, and that’s no bad thing.
STRANGER THINGS is fantastic. At eight plot-packed episodes, this is a series that you can buy into without committing huge amounts of viewing time, and one of those rare serials that will leave you wanting for more.