by Alison DeLuca
Stranger Things has emerged as the surprise hit of the summer, a breath of fresh air after Suicide Squad’s disappointing reviews. Available on Netflix, the 8-part miniseries is a love-letter to the 1980’s.
It begins with a terrifying accident at a secret installation. A psychokinetic girl called Eleven, victim of government experiments, escapes from the scene and is taken in by a group of young, nerdy boys. Meanwhile, the boys’ friend Will has disappeared.
All of this makes for terrific television. I was drawn in right away by the exciting adventure and nonstop action. As a horror fan, I loved the concept of a monster who ‘lives in the walls’. Will Byers, the victim, also lives inside the walls – and in the lights.
This is great stuff, but Stranger Things wouldn’t succeed on action alone. The characters bring the series to life on a magical level I haven’t seen since the Harry Potter series.
Eleven, the child who is the subject of government experiments, is played to heart-breaking perfection by Millie Bobby Brown. With her boyish haircut and intelligence, Eleven confronts her past and shaky future with the help of Will’s friends, especially Mike Wheeler.
Mike and Eleven’s relationship is delicate, shaky at points, and completely fascinating. The target of school bullies, Mike and his friends become stronger as they work to help Eleven. However, there are plenty of bumps along the way.
All of this echoes one of King’s best tropes – the power of friendship, especially among kids. The group of Will’s friends work together to help Eleven and find Will. At the same time they have to fight monsters, bullies, and deadbeat dads.
They aren’t the only brilliant characters. As Will’s mother, Winona Ryder vaults back into acting as a woman who is convinced her son is alive in the face of overwhelming evidence. Only the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper, is willing to help her – and he has overwhelming problems of his own.
And in a lovely about-face, look for the development in Steve Harrington’s character from typical school jock to something more nuanced.
Watching the series is an exercise in ‘Spot the 80’s themes.” Find the references to these movies as you watch:
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Nightmare on Elm Street
Pretty in Pink
Combined with acid-washed jeans, rotary wall phones, and paneled basements, ST will make you feel like you've gone back in time.
From E.T., Stranger Things echoes Elliott's dungeons and dragons game and the desperate bike chase. The Duffer Brothers, creators of the miniseries, have also included the school bullies and hopeless romance from Pretty in Pink. Of course, the actors such as Ryder and Matthew Modine increase the retro cachet.
In fact, my advice is to watch the series twice – once for the references and again purely for the story. Stranger Things succeeds, in the end, for the same reason Suicide Squad fails. While Stranger Things makes an ensemble cast spring to life, Suicide Squad relies too much on action.
Only Margot Robbie, who looks like a living comic book character, is compelling in the movie. Other than her Harley Quinn, the dramatis personae of Squad disappear into the background – despite all the star power DC threw at that movie. Like a lot of comic fans, I was excited by the trailer and ultimately disappointed.
Stranger Things came along with very little fanfare and saved the summer of 2016. If you enjoyed the miniseries and are looking for more, I highly suggest classics such as The Goonies and Lost Boys. Don’t forget to feed your Kindle with similar books like The Outsiders, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, Salem’s Lot, and Desperation.
Buy Devil's Rock at Amazon
Ready Player One is a great choice for those who simply must have more of the 80’s. This book references everything from the decade: games above all, but also TV, movies, and music. It’s a great story as well and makes a great beach read.
So when you are away from your Netflix account, treat yourself to a few novels to extend the summer. When you're home with time on your hands, check out these other Netflix recommendations. And let me know what you thought of Stranger Things – as well as Suicide Squad – in the comments section.
Buy Ready Player One at Amazon
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