It’s a strange time we live in when the top films in the box office are names straight from the ‘70s and the ‘80s—Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Star Trek. It’s even stranger that the best thing to come out of this remake generation is an original story that doesn’t rely on previous properties to get off the ground.
A few weeks ago, Netflix released Stranger Things, a new series that practically screamed ‘80s nostalgia from its eerie title to its old-school, sketch-work poster. Its cast even features an ‘80s icon, Winona Ryder. Despite all its nostalgia power, Stranger Things can stand on its own as a horror story with today’s standards.
Set in 1983, Stranger Things embroils the small Indiana town of Hawkins in a government conspiracy steeped in Cold War implications. A 12-year-old boy goes missing while his three friends go out and look for him. Meanwhile, out of the shadows, a telepathic girl and a horrendous creature emerge to cause chaos and mystery in Hawkins.
The over-arching plot comes straight out of a Stephen King novel: a small town terrorized by a lurking beast no one understands. In fact, Stranger Things’ group of friends is partly reminiscent of The Losers Club from Stephen King’s It. The monster itself looks like an invention from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, from which King got a lot of inspiration from.
Deeper than this main plot, Stranger Things is divided into three subplots: the children’s search for the missing Will, the teenage love triangle hunting for the monster, and the adults exposing the government conspiracy.
The child subplot—composed of leader Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), the independent Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), the comical but logical Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and the telepathic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown)—is by far, the most familiar one among the three. Heavily reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s E.T., this ragtag group relies on Eleven’s psychopathic powers to find Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Matarazzo and Brown win in this entourage with their convincing performances of comic relief/mediator and troubled superhero, respectively.
Meanwhile, the teenage subplot follows the threads of classic American horror film directors John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Sean Cunningham. After suffering their own losses from the monster, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) hunt for the monster to take him down once and for all. Behind this subplot is a more slice-of-life story that involves a love triangle between Nancy, the strange kid Jonathan, and the cool kid Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Sadly, this subplot is the more contrived of the lot with the horror-hunting element clashing with the apparent ode to ‘80s teen romance going on in the background. While its resolution is the best possible on at the season’s conclusion, the series could have been helped further of this part was toned down.
Finally, the adult subplot is a nostalgic reversal of roles. Once a child star herself in the ‘80s (in fact, she was probably the same age as the children back in 1983), Winona Ryder leads this plotline as the desperate mother clinging to the hope that her son, Will, is still alive somewhere. Joining her is Hawkins Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) who discovers the strange and hidden goings-on in the town of Hawkins. With Ryder killing it with her role of the frantic mother, this subplot adds that healthy element of realism because children can’t unravel the government bigwigs on their own.
All three parts of this science fiction horror show coalesce into a story that stands on its own and offers something for all three age groups it hopes to cater to. With only eight episodes, it manages to keep a length that conveys everything it needs to without dragging on for too long.
Even without its tributes to ‘80s stories, Stranger Things is peppered with elements that hark back to times past. From its pastel color palette to its retro/dreamy score and soundtrack (led by the catchy “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash), Stranger Things creates an environment that feels both foreign and familiar at the same time.
The season’s amicable conclusion ties the knot neatly for this nostalgic package. The loose ends that it leaves hanging are just enough to open the door for a second season, while maintaining the first season’s integrity as a standalone story.
Stranger Things is a highly recommended watch for both fans of the ‘80s and millennials alike. If you haven’t yet, check out the entire first season on Netflix now.