“Stranger Things:” A Sci-Fi Thriller Wrapped in ‘80s Nostalgia

Stranger Things
by Emily Wu

Netflix’s new original series, “Stranger Things,” is a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and ‘80s heaven. The show follows a government conspiracy and the disappearance of Will Byers in 1983. The series stars Winona Ryder (known for her role in “Edward Scissorhands” and “Beetlejuice”), and David Harbour. It was created and directed by the Duffer brothers, who are known for directing sci-fi and horror movies and shows.

The show follows Hawkins, Indiana as strange things occur in the seemingly average small town. Neighborhood boy Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears, leading his friends and family on a wild goose chase involving strange visions, electricity, a parallel universe, and the appearance of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a young girl made into a government experiment. The mystery entraps the people of Hawkins.

Surprisingly, the standout performances came from the entourage of younger actors. Brown, especially, does an outstanding job of portraying her character’s development despite the fact that she has few substantial lines. Eleven begins the series as a timid, scared girl, but, by the end of the series, she sacrifices herself and faces her fears.

Three neighborhood boys overcome obstacles in their search for their lost friend while managing to tell a captivating tale of friendship. Each character brings something different to the group: Lucas is the skeptic, Mike is the idealist, and Dustin is the logical one. It is hard not to fall in love with their charismatic, emotional performances.

While Ryder’s performance as Joyce Byers—whose son, Will, is missing—is poignant and emotional, I was much more invested in the younger characters. Though good performances are expected of veterans like Ryder, because the story itself relies heavily on the younger characters, their stellar performances shine brighter.

The show works because not one of the main characters is one-dimensional. Even the bad boy, asshole character is given depth. All the characters go on their own rollercoasters of emotions as they grapple with understanding what is happening around them. The Duffer brothers dedicate screen time to developing even the seemingly minor characters, even if it doesn’t seem to contribute to the overarching story—a storytelling technique reminiscent of “Twin Peaks” (1990-91).

The effort the Duffer brothers made in directing the series is clear—any viewer can see how each shot is very deliberate and precise. The series weaves together many recurring themes and motifs, such as the use of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash, which works to contextualize the series in time. However, it also helps symbolize the plight of many of the characters who are unfulfilled and unhappy living in a small town.

Another more subtle theme is the recurring use of grid patterns in many of the scenes. This is meant to represent a prison, which further symbolizes the town. The show has been called an homage to Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, but it contains a plethora of other references to “The Goonies,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Alien,” among others. While sometimes it seems the show has too many references, it retains its originality through character development and interactions.

Though “Stranger Things” is a story about a fantastical (and creepy) creature, and a young girl who can move things with her mind, the show manages to stay grounded in reality. While there is never a straightforward explanation for the show’s parallel world called “The Upside Down,” the storytelling manages to bring the world and its monster to life.

For the majority of the show, the world remains mysterious and keeps its intrigue. We only gain more information as the characters do, and it is a gradual reveal. However, we are still left with enough questions at the end of Season 1 to keep interest in what will happen in Season 2.

The synth-pop theme song, dynamic characters, and compelling story work together to make “Stranger Things” an original hit. “Stranger Things” manages to appeal to a wide variety of viewers, and hook them into its weird, horrific, yet charming worlds. A show worth binge-watching, “Stranger Things” is only one of Netflix’s ventures into the past with the recent releases of a new show “The Get Down,” which takes place in the 1970s, and a reboot of the 80’s sitcom “Full House” (“Fuller House”).

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