Netflix’s Stranger Things is fantastic flashback fun…
Given that two Steves brought the supernatural and extra-terrerstrial to American suburbia in the 1980s, it’s truly amazing that Steven Spielberg never adapted Stephen King for the screen. But had that happened there’s every chance the result would have looked and felt a lot like eight-part spookfest Stranger Things.
Set in 1983 in Indiana, it centres on the disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers, snatched in the opening moments by a forest-dwelling beastie. Will’s besties — Mike, Dustin and Lucas — are determined to find him, as is his frazzled mum Joyce (played by Winona Ryder), Will’s older brother Jonathan and local police chief Jim Hopper. Thrown into the mix is Eleven, a young girl who has escaped from a sinister CIA experimental laboratory and is pursued by ruthless goons with eyes, ears and guns everywhere.
Beautifully made by The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is rich in gorgeous period detail, strong on suspense if not scares, and packed with likeable-bordering-on-lovable young characters. The show would succeed on its own merits but it’s a special delight for sci-fi and horror fans steeped in 1980s classics. From the font and design of the title sequence (found on classic Stephen King books and in The Dead Zone movie) and the electronic score (so similar to John Carpenter flicks like Halloween and Escape From New York) through to the puckish sense of adventure (night bike rides are straight out of E.T.; there’s also a lot of It, Stand By Me and The Goonies going on) and mild alternate reality horror (did someone say Poltergeist?), it’s a magical mystery tour through genre memory.
Stranger Things is great fun but it ain’t perfect. Sometimes the parallels to uncredited source material are a bit too on the nose, particularly when latter episodes stray into Firestarter remake territory, giving a minor character’s quip “You read much Stephen King?” an edge that’s as awkward as it is knowing. Genuine 1980s relic Winona Ryder also proves a weak link because the Duffers allow her to turn her character up to screechy and twitchy full volume from her first scene.
Despite flaws and occasional over-familiarity, Stranger Things is a nostalgic hoot, perfect for a weekend binge watch, and it sets a solid foundation for future seasons to remix 1980s genre material more boldly in the vein of Donnie Darko and Let The Right One In.