Netflix’s latest contribution to the science fiction video genre is the 8-episode mini-series Stranger Things written and directed by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. The story is set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana during 1983. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and three middle-school friends, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) are engaged in a Dungeons and Dragons marathon. After Mike’s mother Karen (Cara Buono) sends the other boys home, Will is mysteriously abducted, touching off a strange and quite unpredictable chain of events that includes supernormal mental powers, a scary monster, and parallel universes.
Will’s anxiety-ridden mother Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and drug-dependent Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) lead the entire town on a search for her missing son. The real dark side of the plot begins to unfold when Mike, Lucas and Dustin search for Will but instead encounter an apparently mute girl, known only by her tattoo as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Flashbacks show Eleven being subjected to a series of grim behavioral experiments conducted by the sinister Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) at a top-secret Department of Energy laboratory. The DOE laboratory also harbors a gateway to another “universe” replete with a faceless monster, bubbles, sticky stuff and tentacles that enshroud its victims.
Jonathan Byer (Charlie Heaton) may have inadvertently photographed the creature that kidnapped Will and, more recently, Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser), Nancy Wheeler’s (Natalia Dyer) best friend who disappeared during Nancy’s tryst with boyfriend Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Jonathan and Nancy team up to find Barbara and barely avoid becoming the monster’s next victims. In a frantic rush to the finish, Joyce and Hopper try to rescue Will from the monster’s pernicious realm, while Mike, Lucas, and Dustin hope that Eleven’s astonishing cerebral powers will shield them from hostile government agents and the forces of darkness.
Stranger Things pays homage to the 1980s’ more memorable sci-fi flicks with overt references to Poltergeist, Firestarter, and even some E.T. tossed into the mix, complete with an era-specific musical soundtrack. This series is blessed with an outstanding cast. Winona Ryder delivers a stunning turn as the unbalanced mother; David Harbour is her perfect foil as the damaged police officer still in mourning for his deceased daughter; Matthew Modine’s soft-spoken scientist aptly conveys his character’s quintessential creepiness. However, the real stars of the show are the troupe of young actors who portray credible and extremely resourceful kids determined to save their lost friend. The Duffer Brothers (Hidden, Wayward Pines) are a very talented duo that has been on the cinematic radar for the past decade. In spite of some loose ends in the plot (are Dr. Brenner and Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins) really Eleven’s parents) these young writer/directors have still managed to create a dark and extremely spooky horror film that will stay with its viewers well after the end credits have stopped scrolling. Overall, Stranger Things is one of the better Netflix original series to have arrived on my screen in quite some time.
Stranger Things is available for streaming now on Netflix.
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