Instead of reviewing a movie, I thought I would do something different and talk about the 8-part big hit series that came from Netflix this summer called Stranger Things. If you have Netflix Instant, this probably popped up on your screen whenever you logged onto the site to get your Netflix Fix. (I feel like the F in "fix" should be capitalized for that!) I didn't check it out until I kept hearing about it through people I knew and podcasts that were talking about it. Since there are only eight episodes; each about 45 minutes (give or take), it took me less than a week to devour them all.
There will be slight spoilers in this review, but nothing that will give anything major away. But even if you are wary of spoilers, you may want to read this until after you've seen the show. And I highly recommend it.
As I was watching it, I couldn't help but get a Super 8 vibe from it. That movie was set in 1979 and had a cast of eleven/twelve/thirteen year olds. Mostly boys, but there was one girl. They are trying to figure out a mystery involving a monster. This show was set in 1983 (1979, 1983, same thing! At least to me!) It also has a group of eleven/twelve/thirteen year olds. Again, mostly boys, but there was also one girl in this. They are also trying out to figure out a mystery involving a monster, but most of all, their mystery involves trying to figure out what happened to their missing friend. Which involves the monster...obviously!
I was listening to a podcast about this show and someone described it as something that would be created if Steven Spielberg and Stephen King collaborated together. I've heard a lot of comparisons of this show to those two and I can see it. There are definitely elements of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me (or "The Body" if you want to go with the original short story title), and It. Although I have never read or seen It because I don't need to be any more scared of clowns than I already am, thank you very much, but I trust those people who say this reminded them of that. But there are no clowns in this show. Thank God! However, there are plenty of jump scares and I probably shouldn't have watched this at night...there were some creepy moments!
The show starts with a very short prologue of a scientist running away from something we don't see. He runs to the elevator and hits the button several times frantically. Of course then when it finally opens, he has to hit the button again several times to close it. It finally does close and it looks like he's escaped from the monster, except the monster is a lot smarter than he thought because...oops...he's on top of the elevator and snatches the man.
In the next scene, we first meet our young characters. They are four middle-school aged boys who are playing Dungeons and Dragons in Mike's basement. Out of the kids, Mike is the main character. At first, I couldn't decide if he was an odd-looking kid or super cute, but in the end, he won me over and I have opted for the latter choice. The actor who plays him, Finn Wolfhard, has a very distinct bone structure to his face and pair that with his very early '80s haircut (and the very early '80s wardrobe!) it makes him look a bit odd, but it is perfect as he is suppose to be a huge dork and isn't suppose to be with the in crowd at school. This kid is absolutely adorable and if I were a twelve year old girl right now, I would have a crush on him. He's soooo cute! Mike's closest friend and next door neighbor is Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), the only black kid in town. (Well, they do live in a small town in Indiana called Hawkins.) He and Mike have known each other the longest out of the four friends and often communicate with each other through Walkie Talkies which reminded me of the two young friends and next door neighbors in Big. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is the brains of the group, which is saying something since they're all dorky kids! But he's the one who always comes up with the ideas. He's also the fat kid of the group, although I would describe him more as husky than fat...cuz that kid ain't fat! The smallest kid of the group and the one with the least amount of screen time is Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). He's the kid who goes missing hence the limited screen time. This kid has so little screen time he's not even credited in the opening titles! Poor kid! He does show up in flashback scenes in later episodes, but compared to the other kids (and not to mention the other people in the cast), he's not in the series that much.
Will is riding his bike home at night after playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends when he rides past the laboratory we saw earlier where the scientist was. Something pops up in front of him and startles him and he skids off the road. He ditches his bike and runs home the rest of the way. (They do live in a small town, so it must not have been very far). He enters his house where his dog is barking and calls for his mom and brother, but doesn't get an answer from them...we later find out his brother got home late that night because he was working, but I'm not sure if his mom was there or not. She must not have been. He looks out the window and sees a slow-moving figure from a distance slowly advancing towards the house and it is definitely not human. Very creepy. He gets on the phone to call 911, but he just gets static and a weird sound. When the chain to the door becomes undone, Will runs out the back and into the shed where he gets a shotgun and aims it towards the door. We see Will see the monster, which has snuck up behind him, but we don't see the monster close up. In the next shot, Will has vanished. Where has he gone? Seriously, where is he?
During the course of the show, we follow three groups of characters who take different paths to find Will. In one path, we have Will's mother, Joyce. She is played by Winona Ryder. Yes, a name you finally recognize! She was really good in this and it was nice seeing in her something. I can't even remember the last recent thing she had done. She is a single mother of two who works long hours (so therefore she probably wasn't home that night Will vanished). She tells the local sheriff, Jim Hopper aka Hop (David Harbour) who tells her that Lonnie, her ex-husband, probably has something to do with this because "99 times out of 100 the missing kid is with a parent or a relative." Joyce asks him what about the other time, what happens then, and he tells her that the worst thing that has ever happened in their small town was when an owl attacked someone's head because it thought the hair was a nest. (Ouch!)
Weird things start happening at their home. Joyce gets a phone call with just static on the other line, but she very faintly hears Will's voice, but the wires in the phone burn. Will's favorite song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash plays off and on to get Joyce's attention. The lights flicker on and off as if somebody is trying to communicate with her and in a funny scene at the store she works at, Joyce buys all the Christmas lights. At least this was set in November, so she could just say she was getting ready for Christmas! She finds she is able to communicate with Will by having him answer yes and no questions with flicking the lights once or twice. I kept waiting for her to set up an alphabet system and sure enough she paints the alphabet on her wall so Will can spell things out for her. Of course, everyone thinks she's crazy, including Hopper and Mike's mom who comes over to offer her support and comfort for the grieving mother. But mostly, Lonnie, her douche bag ex-husband who left her for a younger woman and never spends time with his sons.
Then there's Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will's older brother, who does help his mom and sheriff search for Will. But he soon takes a different path with Mike's older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer). She is a straight-A student, the goody two shoes daughter. She used to be deemed "cool" by Mike's friends until she started dating the super cool dreamboat Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) who has the most perfect and amazing hair ever known to mankind. Can you the blame the girl for falling for him? I can't! If I were a high school girl in the '80s, I would have a crush on him, although he is a bit of a douche bag, but then he ends up not being one. Nancy becomes involved with the monster mystery when her friend, Barb, also goes missing under mysterious circumstances. They were at Steve's pool party and Barb was by herself while Nancy was giving it up to Steve in his bedroom. Jonathan, a photographer, decides to be a creep when he's lurking in the woods near Steve's house at the time of the party and takes photos of Nancy without her shirt on through the window. He also takes photos of Barb sitting on the diving board, nursing a cut she got on her hand from slicing a beer can sideways with a knife, but it cut her. I'm not sure exactly what they were doing either because this is a party thing and I'm not cool enough to have attended any parties in my day (well, plus, I hate parties!) or if this is an early '80s things and I was a toddler during this time, so therefore I wasn't drinking beer! The photos prove to be helpful as there is an odd figure behind Barb and they believe it to be the monster.
Then there are Will's three friends who meet a strange girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown...maybe her parents were fans of My Prerogative?) They find her, hair shorn and wearing a hospital gown in the same spot where Will went missing. They ask her who she is, but she doesn't seem to talk except for one word syllables like "yes and "no", though over the course of the show she does talk more, but still very limited. She has 011 tattooed on her forearm, thus her name. Mike says they can call her "El" for shore. Me thinks it's a shout out to Elle Fanning who was in Super 8. Maybe that's a stretch! The boys take her back to Mike's basement where he gives her some dry clothes and she starts to take off her shirt and the boys, especially Dustin, start freaking out and tell her to change in the bathroom. I was cracking up over that.
Mike has an idea to have Eleven go to the front door and tell his mom she's lost so she can call someone, but Eleven, clearly scared, tells him no, so he lets him stay in his basement where he has a little fort she sleeps in and sneaks her down food. She really takes a liking to Eggos. The boys soon find out Eleven is very special as she has telekinetic powers (like Carrie, another Stephen King shoutout!) I was just waiting for when she was going to use her powers on the two bullies, Troy and some other kid whose name I don't remember. They relentlessly pick on Mike, Lucas, and Dustin. They call Dustin Toothless because he is missing his two front teeth and has a lisp. Eleven uses her powers to humiliate them and humiliate she does. So much in fact that the bullies come back for retaliation. Troy is clearly a sociopath as he tells Mike to jump off a cliff into the lake that is high enough that it will kill anyone who will jump off from there. In fact, we had a scene in an earlier episode where Hopper tells someone that if someone jumped from this cliff, their bones would shatter when they hit the water. Troy tells Mike that if he doesn't jump, then he will cut out Dustin's remaining teeth with the pocket knife he has. Even the other bully tells Troy that this is wrong, but Troy doesn't seem to care and decides he wants to be a murderer at age 12. Good going there, kid. They encountered the bullies when they were looking for Eleven, who had run away. Mike had to know she was close by or else he wouldn't have jumped, right? Surely he knew that jump would kill him! Because he does jump, but she manages to save him with her powers, and also breaks Troy's arms which was awesome. Because he totally deserved it.
As you may have guessed, the three different paths cross and everyone is working together to figure out the mystery. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say the end is left open for a second season. If you love anything about the '80s, the fashion, the music, synthesizers (which play a big part in the score), and movies from that era, you will enjoy this immensely.
I read that the show was pitched to about 15 different networks before finally it was taken to Netflix because nobody would take it. I bet all those networks are kicking themselves now. But I prefer it being on Netflix. Much easier to access and you have all the episodes at your disposal and you can watch whenever you want to; you're not bounded by a schedule. It's no wonder I've been with Netflix for over ten years now, wow!
The young cast was on Jimmy Fallon and they did a hilarious skit where Jimmy played cool guy Steve and then "Barb" showed up. OMG, I was laughing so hard. If you missed it, you should defintely check it out on YouTube...I'm sure you can find it there. There are major spoilers, though!