So soon into the life of this blog, I must go outside its brief. Instead of doing a new cinema release, this week I’m going to do a spoiler free review of the first season of the new Netflix series Stranger Things. Why you ask? Because the only films in my local cinema that I haven’t seen are Ice Age: Collision Course and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie and with all due respect, fuck that. You don’t need me to tell you those movies are bad and that you shouldn’t go see them. I’ve said week in and week out that I don’t want to be constantly giving negative reviews so I have made the conscious decision to talk about something that deserves to be talked about. So with that bring on season one of Stranger Things, a love letter to the 80s genre movie.
Normally I’d give a plot summary but the thing is, Stranger Things is an amalgamation of a lot of different 80s movie plots with all the story beats and archetypes that would entail. They are all given equal time and weight so it would be a little messy and take way too long to describe all the different threads. Now I’m a little too young to be an expert on the 80s genre film but I know enough to recognise how cool it is that Stranger Things is a cross of The Goonies, Poltergeist and the entirety of Stephen King’s body of work to name but a few of its sources. With a classic “government conspiracy lets monster loose on a town” plot it’s fairly old school. Make no mistake, the characters and plots are old but they are extremely well done, particularly in how the threads constantly brush against each other until finally linking up. The way they evoke the essence of an 80s genre movie though is what’s really important here.
But the fact that this doesn’t really have a deeper meaning outside of “we have to stop the monster!” doesn’t mean we can’t read into it anyway though. Stranger Things, due to its nature as a cross-section of an entire decade’s worth of film, really does highlight that all the stories and characters are about a search for validation. Among the myriad of examples from this show let’s stay simple with the nerds. At the start of the show, they are ridiculed for their love of science and fantasy but by the end, their knowledge is the key to success. Sound familiar? Well? Does it? Monster Squad.
So from what I could tell Stranger Things doesn’t bring anything new to the table, planting itself firmly in the retro style which is odd. Most times I see film makers resurrect a style of film making from the past, they put their own spin on it. Often times their use of the style is an act of deconstruction. This does beg the question: Does a pastiche of a style of film making have to create a commentary on that style or can it succeed just being a really good version of that form? I’m going to side with the latter because, honestly, I had a really good time watching Stranger Things and though the 80s weren’t my decade I greatly enjoyed all the different elements that typify the average 80s genre movie.
What I mean by that primarily is that Stranger Things is, for the most part, a good example of 80s PG and as we all know 80s PG means pants-shitting terror. Remember this? And this? Don’t forget this. That last one wasn’t even PG that’s how hardcore the 80s were. The 80s was the time when PG meant something. When your mother legitimately had to question if you were ready for a PG movie. Also because this is on Netflix it doesn’t have to strictly adhere to any guidelines so the series can venture outside the far limits of 80s PG and when it does it feels special, more impactful. I legitimately recoiled in horror at a couple of moments and then marvelled at how bad ass these characters were. One of my favourite character, and a lot of other people’s to imagine, is 11 and by and large the source of this horrifying badassery. She’s a child with psychic powers (Hello again, Mr. King) who fluctuates between being E.T. and Carrie, the most fun being had when she mixes the two in one scene.
That’s the meat and potatoes of this series covered. Now let’s look at the gravy. A few different points to cover here so we are going to bullet point this:
VISUAL REFERENCES: Aside from the obvious sources of inspiration for the plot, there are a lot of references to other genre films that are actually subtle. Now I don’t mean that they aren’t obvious to anyone who’s seen the movie they are referencing but no one lampshades them. There is a very clear visual reference to the film Aliens but no one says “Wow this is just like Aliens”.
VERBAL REFERENCES: However, the kids name drop movies all the time but it makes sense because they are nerds. Drawing comparisons between the movies and their situation is the only way they can relate to what’s happening.
EFFECTS: Really excellent practical effects augmented by computer effects which for most part look really good. Except for in the climax where there needs to be a lot of action in a well lit room and the illusion starts to fall apart.
MUSIC: Eighties pop songs populate this soundtrack and they contrast nicely with the dark atmosphere and tone of the show. Also holy god damn I loved the synthesiser score that really does trojan work in establishing that 80s movie feel.
MY FAVOURITE THING EVER: Dustin. That magnificent toothless bastard.
Stranger Things was made with love and it really shows. As I’ve said, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table but it really doesn’t have to. If you are an 80s child you will drown in nostalgia and if you happened to be born in the wrong decade and always wondered what the 80s was like, this is a very effective crash course.
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