Monday, August 1, 2016

"Stranger Things" Goes Back to the 80s

The year is 1983, and there’s something weird going on in Hawkins, Indiana. After a night of playing Dungeons & Dragons at a friend’s house, Will Byers disappears without a trace on his way home. At a government facility called the Hawkins National Laboratory, strange experiments are taking place, and a scientist runs away from (and is grabbed by) a creepy creature we don't see. A mysterious young girl (who seems to be on the run) with telekinetic powers shows up, and helps Will’s friends as they search for the missing boy. That’s just the beginning of Stranger Things, an entertaining series that's now available via streaming on Netflix. It’s an affectionate homage to genre films, TV shows & fiction of the 1980s with a decidedly Spielberg-esque tone. There are also nods to Stephen King & John Carpenter (dig that synthesizer score) and there’s even a little taste of the 90s, with a slight X-Files feel to the proceedings. But Stranger Things is so much more than just a retread.

As the story continues, the sheriff searches for Will, and finds that not everything is what it seems. Will’s Mom begins to experience odd events, and believes her missing son is trying to communicate with her, though no one believes her…at first. Will's older brother Jonathan gets involved in the mystery, as he helps Mike’s older sister Nancy, whose friend Barb has also disappeared. What will happen to our young heroes? What’s the real story behind Hawkins National Laboratory and Eleven’s strange powers? Who's the white-haired man in charge of the project? Can our heroes solve the mystery & find Will & Barb? You'll be binge watching this terrific 8 episode series to discover the answers to these questions.

The show's most recognizable stars are Winona Ryder (who’s quite good as Will’s Mom) and Matthew Modine, who portrays Dr. Martin Brenner, the lead scientist at the “secret” government lab. But the real stars of the show are the kids; Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin are perfect as Will’s buddies Mike, Dustin & Lucas. They’ll evoke fond memories for fans of films like Stand By MeE.T., The Goonies, Poltergeist, It and The Monster Squad. Millie Bobby Brown is excellent as Eleven, the young girl with mysterious powers who may hold the key to Will’s disappearance. David Harbour also gives a fine performance as Sheriff Hopper, who is drawn more deeply into the town’s mysteries as the series moves forward; he has his own reasons for finding Will & bringing him home.

The pitch perfect performances are enhanced by the series’ nostalgic look and atmosphere; it’s like someone found a lost TV series from the 80s and added it to Netflix. In addition to the Carpenter-esque score and the 80s pop & rock tunes on the soundtrack, there are a host of Easter eggs & visual shout outs to the era. The series has gained a lot of buzz since it was added to the Netflix lineup, through positive word of mouth & generally good reviews. The Duffer Brothers, best known for their work on the first season of the Fox series Wayward Pines, created the show. It's obvious that they love this material, and they treat it with affection & care; it's never just a carbon copy of what we've seen before in the genre. The series is enjoyable, consistently entertaining, enthralling, atmospheric & well-written. Stranger Things will draw you in, and you’ll find yourself caught up in its appealing retro vibe. Here’s a link to the trailer:

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