Tomorrow, July 15, the ’80s set horror/sci-fi series “Stranger Things” arrives on Netflix, and right now we have a spoiler-free preview to help get you ready for it!
Within the wooded landscape of Hawkins, Indiana, stands the aerial crowned square building that is the Hawkins National Institute. Deep beneath the Institute’s unostentatious exterior is a lab that has made the breakthrough of the century: a pulsating rift to another dimension, a shadowy mirror of our world.
Through this gash in the fabric of space and time, a creature with the insatiable need to consume has crawled, and the residents of the small town are in its sights.
“Stranger Things” follows the quest for Will Byers, a young boy who has been spirited away by the aforementioned beast. The search is conducted by three groups, each of which go down a different trail leading back to the Institute.
Will’s mother, played with unbreakable frantic energy by Winona Ryder, attempts to break through barriers to see her boy. She is aided in uncovering the conspiracy by David Harbour’s Chief Hooper, who seems to be channeling the ultimate ‘80s cop, Tom Atkins.
Group 2 is comprised of Charlie Heaton as Jonathan, Will’s older brother, and fellow concerned student Nancy (Natalia Dyer). The third group, and the true stars of the series, is comprised of the combined force of Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and the mysterious “Eleven” (for more, see my cast & crew interviews here).
To delve into the individual characters would reveal too much plot, but there is a standout performance that was an unexpected delight: Harbour’s Chief Hooper. In a series filled with likable and interesting civilian characters, the law enforcement roles fall into the background as hindrances and obstacles. Here, Chief Hooper is the damaged and charismatic hero who must rely on his intuition and reliance to piece together the mystery without paranormal assistance. The Chief also subscribes to the best philosophy of all: When in doubt, punch a guy out.
During our recent set visit, the Duffer Brothers stated that they wanted to represent the best of the 1980’s horror, thriller, and sci-fi films without making a product that felt or looked like a gimmicky knock-off. There are passive nods to many familiar films from the decade of excess. Nothing, however, is so meta that it becomes a distraction. The keen observer may catch references to Silver Bullet, The Explorers, Rambo, The Goonies, and IT to name just a few.
Filmed in a cinematic style with a color palette reminiscent of E.T., “Stranger Things” invites viewers in via such familiar visuals. The shiny spandex and glaring neon approach genre fans may have feared would return are not present even in the most passing sense. The same can be said for the more cringe-worthy parts of that era’s pop culture. Ears won’t be accosted by pandering colloquialism or mandatory Madonna, but instead by a subtle synth soundtrack courtesy of Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon.
“Stranger Things” does hit some ‘80s tropes that increase the predictability of the main and sub plot lines, but they never reach the point where audience members can pat themselves on the back and say, “Called it!” Where “Stranger Things” does succeed in handling the ghosts of horror movies past is by not giving in to them just for the sake of nostalgia. Major and minor characters maintain an air of realism through their actions and dialogue. A stereotypical list of victim and survivor roles horror fans may expect to find is largely not present, and thankfully so.
To quote Uncle Creepy, “We bleed for this stuff.” “Stranger Things” is a love letter penned in fandom blood and sealed with nostalgia’s kiss.
Disclaimer: This preview is spoiler-free. For a more in-depth review, look for me on an upcoming broadcast of Brainwaves.