I am not a big fan of horror, or of jump scares, and of creepy things that go bump in the night. However, over the last few years, it seems that my tolerance for jump scares has gotten considerably better, even though I limit myself to stuff such as the “Scream” film franchise and MTV’s “Scream” television series. So, when I first saw the trailer of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, I did not know how to feel about it.
On one hand, as a Winona Ryder fan, I wanted to watch her comeback vehicle; but on the other hand, I did not know how much jump scares I could take.
After the initial buzz began to get louder and louder, particularly on the internet, in praise of the show, I decided to abandon all caution to the wind, and ended up watching it, and yes, sometimes, I watched it during the night.
In the end, I discovered a television show that I could have never dreamed of. It was a brilliantly written show oozing with acting and creative talent, and had so much nostalgia that actually served a purpose, and it was done in such a way that those who are not familiar with the ‘80s would still understand the references made in it.
So now, without further ado, let’s enter the world of “Stranger Things”.
WARNING: There will be major spoilers from here on out.
It is no surprise that “Stranger Things” is the breakout hit of the summer.
It introduced us to a nostalgic world in which strange things really do happen, and each dramatic beat, each story point, narratively speaking, pulls you in to find out what happens next. Yes, it is true what they said about this show- once you start, you cannot stop.
The story begins in 1984, in Hawkins, Indiana, where one night, a young boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), disappears; coincidentally enough, on the very same night in which something somehow escapes a top secret facility sitting right next to Will’s town.
Will’s friends, Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) then decide to investigate Will’s disappearance, and run into a young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), a young girl with telekinetic and telepathic powers, reminiscent of “Firestarter”.
While the boys investigate, Will’s brother, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Mike’s older sister, Nancy Wheeler (Natalie Dyer), end up getting pulled into the mysterious events after something happens to Nancy’s good friend, Barb (Shannon Purser).
Meanwhile, the adults, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), get pulled into the fray after Joyce discovers that she can somehow communicate with Will, and after Hopper discovers that Will’s disappearance is connected to the secret laboratory near them.
Investigations, monsters, and a parallel world emerge in their investigations, and friendships are made, broken, and strengthened, as secrets surface.
The Duffer brothers did a great job in creating a tight world full of wonder and mystery, and I am glad that they only gave us a little taste of the parallel universe, or what the “Upside Down” is like, something, which they said they would expound on in subsequent seasons. (Yes, we have season two coming up!)
The dialogue, story, and the world building was masterfully done, and I cannot wait to see what the second season brings. Aside from this, they were also able to successfully transport the viewers back to the 1980s, thanks to the references, music, costumes, set pieces and the title sequence that they used.
Now, all of these, you would think, would be enough to create a recipe for a breakout hit. Not quite. Because all of this was enhanced by the amazing talent that every single actor in the series had to bring to the table, from the adults, all the way to the children. (Whoever was their casting director definitely deserves a raise).
First off, I had no doubt in my mind that Ryder would be amazing as the distraught mother. As I was watching her perform, I realized that being that emotional, for almost the entire season, is difficult and draining, both physically and emotionally. However, she knocked it out of the park.
Then, there was Harbour’s Chief Hopper, a bear of a man, and someone whom I’m pretty sure I would immediately trust if I lived in that world. Aside from providing a much needed “father” or older male figure, Harbour managed to show that his character was just as nuanced as everyone else. (My personal favorite scene of his was when he became paranoid to the point that he literally tore open his entire trailer to see if it was bugged).
Cara Buono here was a revelation to me, as the last time I saw her, it was on “Person of Interest”, where she was playing an assassin, a far cry from the strong and feminine house wife she is here. Matthew Modine was also perfectly creepy as Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the secret research laboratory there.
Purser’s Barb Holland was a short-lived character, but she will always be remember in people’s hearts (#justiceforbarb).
Dyer, Heaton, and Joe Keery were perfect as Nancy Wheeler, Jonathan Byers, and Steve Harrington, respectively. I loved that the three managed to go on an adventure together, and I could have sworn that Steve’s hair grew taller and taller each episode he was in. I particularly enjoyed seeing Jonathan and Nancy becoming friends, and I must admit that I “shipped” them together.
Now, the real stars of the show, honestly, are the child actors of this series- Noah Schnapp (Will Byers), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), and Millie Bobbie Brown (Eleven).
All of them acted to the best of their abilities, and created characters and personas that will be remembered for years to come.
In particular, many, myself included, were amazed by Millie Bobbie Brown’s performance as Eleven, as she had the least amount of lines, but said them, and looked and moved, with such emotion and purpose that is surprising for a young actress such as herself.
During Asia Pop Comic Con last August in Manila, when asked about how she prepared for her character, Millie said something that astounded me. She told us, the audience, that she did not have to prepare that much for it as the character somehow clicked instantly with her, and she knew what to do. So, yes, whoever was in charge of casting, kudos to you!
“Stranger Things” is one show that one cannot miss, be it for the story, the acting or the oodles of creativity that was put in it.
This truly was a breakout hit, and a sensation, and I highly doubt, with the caliber that they have presented to us, that the second season will not disappoint.