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'Stranger Things' is in love with the '80s

Which is why we're in love with 'Stranger Things'


July 26, 2016

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    Netflix’s recently released Stranger Things is a beautiful homage to the childhood optimism and wonder embedded in early Spielberg films (E.T.); a respectful recapture of the sci-fi, government paranoia in John Carpenter movies (The Thing) and an ode to the dreadful uncertainty and paranormal horror found in Stephen King's novels (It). A better executed Super 8 (Sorry, J.J. Abrams), the story told in Matt and Ross Duffer’s Stranger Things is deeply rooted and tangled in its 80s influences. 
    The eight-episode series, set in 1980s Indiana, follows the aftermath of the eerie disappearance of 12-year-old boy Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). The events of Stranger Things take place a little over a week, with each episode spanning a day. Within that week, the characters stumble both into a government conspiracy and a terrifying monstrous creature from a different dimension. The story is engrossing, tightly paced, and will lead to an obsessive binge-watch.
    The show’s vast ensemble can easily be categorized by three different tiers: adults, high schoolers and kids. Throughout the series, each group of characters embarks on separate but related journeys in an effort to decipher the truth behind the strange occurrences manifesting in their small town. 
    Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Black Swan) and Jim Harbour (Newsroom) give the series its star power as the missing boy’s grieving mother and the intuitive sheriff in charge of the search. Ryder gives a magnetic performance as a mother surrounded by skeptics, descending deeper into madness and ugly paranoia with each mysterious, supernatural encounter.
    The most notable facet of the show is its casting of young actors: The fresh-faced Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarzarro and Caleb McLaughlin are superb finds and do a remarkable job of conveying authenticity and adventure into their roles as Will Byer’s concerned friends. The kids anchor the show and play a central role in the narrative when they discover Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — a young, brutally experimented-upon runaway with strange abilities. 
    Perhaps the most extraneous element of the show is its teenage characters, who for the majority of its episodes seem trapped in a superfluous love triangle. The subplot tests the viewer’s patience; however, it ends up delivering a satisfying payoff when the love triangle finally fades into the background and a more engaging monster hunt takes its place. All things considered: Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton and Joe Keery do a great job at bringing subtle, unexpected layers to the familiar perfect girl, loner-outcast and privileged jock archetypes present in most high school stories. 
    Stranger Things is a perfect homage to 80s classics, but it is not a perfect show: gaps in logic and decision-making are often made, scenes are sometimes played without subtlety, and a number of secondary and tertiary characters lack nuance. These shortcomings are easily overshadowed by the Duffer brother’s immense adoration of and commitment to capturing the unique atmosphere of the 80s.  
    Matt and Ross Duffer are able to effortlessly teleport us back several decades with a spot-on, retro soundtrack and grainy, vintage visuals. Turns out, the 80s are a perfect period for throwback stories about terrorizing monsters, science experiments gone wrong, and the infinite routes and possibilities of childhood adventures.

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