Stranger Things is the eight part, Netflix event series. On the evening of November 6, 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana, an innocent night playing Dungeons & Dragons takes a tragic turn for a group of friends when Will Byers disappears…seemingly into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers behind his disappearance they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and the discovery of one very strange little girl.
Chapter 1 – “The Vanishing Of Will Byers”
Chapter 2 – “The Weirdo On Maple Street”
Nostalgia is an immensely powerful force and never more so when it comes to the visual medium. When viewed as an adult, the tv shows and films of your youth – well, the good ones at least – have the power to transport you back to the exact time and place you first saw them. More than that feelings, as well as memories, are evoked, emotions so strong that the very best output have become touchstones, family heirlooms that are passed down the generations.
That all writers and directors steal from their youth and the past is a given. And with many of those currently reaching their peak having come of age in the 80’s, it’s not surprising that the classics from this era are being referenced, paid homage to or just simply remade. Twins Ross and Matt Duffer – aka The Duffer Brothers, the creators and showrunners of Stranger Things – were born in 1984 and are steeped in all things Spielberg, John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Stephen King. And it shows.
With its synth theme and 1980’s Stephen King font, the tone is set immediately and, with a scientist running down a subterranean corridor before being grabbed by an unseen force from above, maintained perfectly. You’re home, you’re safe, you’re a child again, with yearned-for mystery and horrors awaiting you. We meet Mike, Lucas, Dustin and the ill-fated Will playing a Dungeons & Dragons in a basement before heading off to their respective homes in the dark and fog. En route Will is surprised by ‘something’ in the road, loses his bike, gets a bit lost near the innocuously sounding Hawkins National Laboratory, run by the Department of Energy, and gets followed home by this ‘something’. Scared witless, he’s pursued into a shed in his garden…and then simply vanishes.
As openers go, this is as good as it gets, balancing the family viewing/incredibly creepy tone perfectly. The next morning, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder – wonderful) panics and enlists the help of borderline alcoholic, always hung over Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour). Hopper’s not unduly worried, not yet anyway, and decides to focus initial investigations with Will’s absent father Lonny. With Joyce panicking, it seems it’s up to Mike, Lucas and Dustin to organise a search themselves. Completely against their parent’s wishes, of course.
Elsewhere in the woods surrounding Hawkins, a mysterious girl appears and steals food from a local diner. When diner owner Benny’s kindness at feeding her is rewarded with a bullet in the head from sinister agents operating out of the laboratory, the girl – who calls herself “Eleven” after the tattooed number on her wrist – takes flight and is found by Will’s friends, who are out searching the woods against for their friend. As Mike takes Eleven home, Joyce gets a static-filled phone call that she believes is from Will, before a power surge shorts out the phone and burns her. Who is Eleven? Where is Will? And just what is in that laboratory?
Eleven is hiding out at Mike’s house; if they hand her in, they’re all in big trouble as they shouldn’t have been out at night. Besides, and despite a very limited vocabulary, Eleven has made them all promise not to tell any adults as ‘bad people’ are after her. At this stage, we’re as much in the dark as Mike, Dustin and Lucas. So Mike keeps her hidden in a direct nod to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial that’s so blatant, it’s almost too much of a direct lift. Eleven also has telekinetic powers, and when she sees a picture of all four boys, points to the missing Will. She knows him. She’s seen him.
As with all young male protagonists in 1980’s films, Mike has an annoying sister. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a high-acheiver, a goody two-shoes who nonetheless is falling for high school jock Steven and his bad boy routine. Terrible things lurk around the corner for girls who go down this route; having sex is a sure-fire way of being chased by whatever foe is at large. Losing one’s virginity to the school dude? She’d be marked for death. For now though, she’s only willing to show her bra and indulge in some heavy petting at a party at Steven’s parent’s house. But she’s also taken doudy friend Barb along and dumped her when the going got good. And with ‘something’ still lurking in the woods, Barb is about to meet a violent fate, as all girls of her kind did back in the day.
The search is stepped-up and a drainpipe is found in the woods, which the police believe Will may have crawled into. As Joyce gets another mysterious call and the walls around her begin to morph into strange shapes which seriously scare her, Eleven is using the Dungeons & Dragons set to show Mike, Lucas and Dustin that Will was taken by a monster. Where’s Will? Who is the magnificently hairstyled Dr. Brenner? Where did Eleven come from? Follow it all here at XO.TV.
- The efforts made to evoke all that was good about the iconic films of the early 80’s were not squandered. The attention to detail is wonderful. As are some glaring anachronisms – Lethal Weapon on the tv in 1983? We think not.
- The casting is spot on. Winona Ryder has been absent for too long, Matthew Modine makes an excellent bad guy (we’re presuming) and the kids all look like they’ve stepped straight from a time-machine.
- When the makers go as far as using the correct fonts and typefaces of the era, you know you’re in good hands.
- But it would all count for nought were the story not up to scratch. Thankfully, it started with a bang and kept going.
- Wasn’t telling a mystery so much easier before the advent of cellphones?!