Sunday, 31 July 2016

Show Review: Stranger Things


When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.
(source: imdb)




Everyone seems to be talking about the Netflix original series Stranger Things these days. And for good reason. 


When young Will Bryers disappears after a long day of playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, his small, quiet hometown gets turned upside down. Not only due to the search for Will, which his friends as experienced D&D adventurers take very seriously, but also because of the mysterious appearance of a young girl named Eleven.


To me the show's atmosphere is very much a step back in time. The focus is not so much on the action as it is on the mystery. It felt a bit like E.T. meets The Goonies meets Pan's Labyrinth, only without the gore. For a horror drama it was not particularly frightening. As a hardened horror movie watcher I am probably not the best judge as to what is frightening, but I would say it had a few jumpy moments. On the whole, the story was gripping, kept me guessing, and certainly sparked my interest in the mysterious forces that were at work throughout the show.


Without giving too much away, the show plays a bit on the idea of alternate universes. That is a topic which has a huge appeal to me. My crazy theories on alternate universes, spun entirely in my mind from a very young age and without the backing of science - mostly because I like to keep the mystery alive instead of getting cold, hard facts - warrant their own post, so I won't go into that here, other than to say I really loved how the idea was handled in Stranger Things. The thought that there are other worlds bordering ours and that people may cross over is not uncommon in fiction, and Stranger Things doesn't add anything new, but the simplicity of the idea and the use of light as a link between one world and the other was used to great effect. Unfortunately, the show fails to offer an exact explanation as to how the link was established (the reason is mentioned, but not explained), which I found quite disappointing, but in terms of story flow the show lost little to this omission.


This is mainly due to the fact that the show is seen largely through the eyes of Will's best friends, who being young and already huge fans of fantasy and mystery (yes, there are many Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons references), do not need physics to understand the magnitude of their discoveries and believe in the wonders they encounter - though a teacher provides the explanation for the more critical adults in the audience.


The fact that it is largely children and teenagers dealing with Will's disappearance and the events that unfold because of it really is where the show comes into its own. It makes the mystery more mysterious and the horror more horrific. It is the age of the protagonists that makes everything appear even stranger. Where Will's mum is quickly branded as going mad with worry and grief, it is through the kids that the story is allowed to unfold. Their belief in mysteries and adventure and their approach to Will's rescue as a real life D & D campaign is the doorway that eases the supernatural elements into our reality.


The only element that left me disappointed was the lack of explanation. As mentioned earlier, the details of the other dimension are never really explained. Eleven's background remains equally blurry. Why was she chosen for the life she had? And if she is Eleven, where are children One to Ten? The ending is also raising more questions than it answers, which makes me hope that future seasons will carry forward and tie up these loose strings. Only this week Netflix announced several more Stranger Things seasons, so here's hoping.


I give the show 4 out of 5 possible stars.

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