Nostalgia, as the saying goes, is a hell of a drug, and it at least partially explains why the social media pipes are frequently clogged with arguments about things like Pokemon, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and countless superheroes. Humans are fiercely loyal to the things we loved as children, and that (at least partially) explains why we’re frequently inundated with unnecessary remakes, late-arriving sequels, and simplistic copycats. But every once in a while we’re treated to something that’s both highly nostalgic and relatively original at the same time, and that’s when good things happen.
Case in point: Matt and Ross Duffer’s Stranger Things, which is a clever, compelling, and an altogether fantastic homage to the best in 1980s genre fiction. Scattered throughout this epic tale of small-town terror are images, concepts, and themes that evoke filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, and (of course) Stephen King, but (and this is the important part) Stranger Things never feels like less than its own creation. Frankly speaking, it’s not all that difficult to simply copy from the genre masters, but it is quite impressive when a production team is able to strike an astute balance homage and originality—and that’s what makes this eight-episode series such a pleasant surprise. The Duffer brothers were clearly raised on great sci-fi, horror, and adventure films, but you always need to bring some of your own ideas into the equation; Stranger Things does that remarkably well.
Without spoiling any of the nifty twists and unexpected plot contortions: Stranger Things is about three geeky yet effortlessly affable pre-teens who sneak out to go searching for a friend who went missing after a particularly epic Dungeons & Dragons battle. Meanwhile, in another part of Hawkins, Indiana, a mysterious young girl appears (seemingly) out of nowhere, and she’s got a whole platoon of shady people on her trail. There’s also the devoted yet desperate mother of the missing kid, a gruff but lovable sheriff on the case, and a collection of teenagers who are noteworthy in that they’re well-crafted, three-dimensional characters. And that’s always nice to see.
So we’ve got a strong ensemble of excellent young newcomers and seasoned pros like Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, and David Harbour; a pitch-perfect 1983 production design (right down to the clothes, cars, hairstyles, and the music: not only the soundtrack selections but also the excellently synthy score); some very sharp writing that, for the most part, allows its young characters to behave like actual kids; and a warm, moody (yes, even nostalgic) visual presentation that’s quite beautiful… oh, and we haven’t even touched on the scary parts yet.
Suffice to say that there are some very shady dealings going on at a mysterious research facility located within the Hawkins city limits, and once little Will Byers goes missing, his disappearance kick-starts an investigation that unleashes all sorts of supernatural malfeasance. Is it monsters? Aliens? Indescribable entities from an alternate dimension? Again, you won’t get any spoilers here. I suspect that most genre fans will enjoy discovering what Stranger Things has to offer for themselves—especially if they have even the vaguest recollection of growing up in the early 1980s.
4.5 of those burritos you loved as a kid out of 5:
Are you going to watch Stranger Things? Let us know in the comments below.