Seriously, what’s not to love about Stranger Things, the new Netflix series rooted in the 1980s?
It is peppered with just the right elements: science fiction, spookiness, mystery, ’80s fashions and terrific performances. As soon as the first episode was over, I just wanted to dive straight into the second.
The setting is the smalltown of Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. The town is home to a US Department of Energy National Laboratory, and to some decided weirdness unfolding on its unsuspecting townsfolk.
When 12 year old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) goes missing one night his misfit pals, led by Michael (Finn Wolfhard), set about finding him, while distressed mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) struggles to convince lethargic Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) that something sinister has occurred.
Meanwhile Michael’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is focussed on more teenage pursuits, including horny adolescent Steve (Joe Keery), while Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) begins to feel neglect over his missing sibling.
Concurrent with the domestic drama is a conspiratorial subplot involving government, forces that are either alien or supernatural, and a huge cover-up. Leading it all is Dr. Brenner (a silver-haired Matthew Modine) in full body protective clothing, packing torches and guns.
If you haven’t already guessed, this is a total genre piece, but one that brilliantly balances the drama with humour and schlock horror.
Created and Directed by The Duffer Brothers (Wayward Pines, Hidden) Stranger Things is clearly a valentine to Spielberg, Stephen King and movies that freaked you out in the 1980s. The boys at the heart of the film could be straight out of The Goonies or Stand By Me, riding ET-like bicycles along Close Encounter roads. There’s the high school straight out of Carrie or Breakfast Club, and the forest where dark deeds unfold in the night. Yet it doesn’t feel like a vapid rip-off, but something of its own design that celebrates a slice of fading Americana. There’s even a shout-out to Australia…
Casting Winona Ryder as the tormented mother (and for that matter Matthew Modine) is also part of the Duffer Brothers’ clever nod to the 80s. Here Ryder begins as victim before early signs of a mother who is ready for a fight. David Harbour also impresses as the Sheriff who would rather dunk donuts than believe there is an actual case to solve -he has his own demons to overcome.
But the real stars are the kids of Stranger Things, including Finn Wolfhard, who as Michael has lost his friend, and trusty sidekicks Gaten Matarazzo (this kid is a total scene-stealer!) as Dustin, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas, and Millie Brown as Eleven -to say any more would be a Spoiler. Special mention to the casting dept for partnering this troupe.
Fittingly, the show is swimming in 80s hairstyles and denim, music from Toto and The Clash, wallphones, recliner chairs, Camel cigarettes and Realistic CB radios.
It motors along at an entertaining pace, dangling clues here and dropping shocks there, allowing plenty of room for character humour despite its ominous premise.
Get ready for the buzz. Stranger Things is one of the best new treats of 2016.
Stranger Things begins Friday on Netflix.