By Barbara Doyle, Alex Doyle
If Stephen King wrote E.T. and John Carpenter directed it, you’d end up with Netflix’s sci-fi/horror miniseries Stranger Things, which follows the mysterious disappearance of young Will Byers from his small-town Indiana home.
When it comes to 80’s movies, I’m Stand By Me and Alex is Aliens. I love character driven stories and he picks apart technical inaccuracies, but we both loved Stranger Things. It skillfully sets a tone of being set in the 80’s, rather than becoming a blatant copy of 80’s movies. We can’t tell you too much about the plot without giving all of the well-crafted story away, but here are some spoiler-free reasons that you should watch this spooky-yet-still-charming thriller.
Realistic characters. In the initial episodes you see the stereotypes: the horny jock, the nerdy middle schoolers, the frantic single mom, the goody-two-shoes teenager, the small-town sheriff. Stranger Things gives each of these tropes more depth and warmth, and all of them – even the minor characters – have a story arc to explore. We cared about these people. Sometimes they did what you’d expect, and sometimes they were smarter than that, which makes Stranger Things a character-driven story and not just another horror movie that demands things happen for the sake of the plot.
Casting. With the exception of Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine the cast is filled with new faces and relative unknowns, and that helped us get into the story without being distracted by the memories of the actors’ other roles. All of the actors are extremely talented – even the kids – who give off a Goonies vibe that made us instantly want to root for them. There really isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, and that’s always a feat when a major part of your story revolves around pre-teens. The characters also all look like actual people that you might meet in your hometown. No one was glamorously or stereotypically dressed or snapping out 80’s slang every other word. Their appearances were humble, their well-delivered dialogue was common. Real. That made them all the more relatable.
The structure of the plot. The puzzle pieces of the mystery fit together in a way that never feels contrived. Things that you think might not be important are. Some things that you think you know exactly how they are going to play out develop naturally into something else, defying standard expectations. Every episode ended on a note of suspense that left us eager to watch the next one. This is a marathon-type show. If you have eight hours of free time in a row? You’ll know just how to spend them.
The Details. So. Many. Details that they got right. Faced with the double challenge of creating a science fiction story and setting it in a decade where most viewers will remember what it was really like, the Duffer Brothers managed to make sure everything hung together and nothing was out of place. From the sets to the language to the understated 80’s fashion (and no, it wasn’t neon and headbands—think mom jeans and big eyeglasses,) to the logical conclusion of the plot, at no point did we say ‘well, that would never happen.’
The music. While the radio hits of the decade from Corey Hart to Foreigner are immediately recognizable, the mood is set by the spot on, synth heavy, Tangerine Dream/John Carpenter-influenced score. It’s reminiscent of movies like Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street, and Firestarter, which, again, emphasizes the 80’s atmosphere and the feeling that things aren’t quite right in town.
The payoff. The time invested is rewarded with satisfying answers to the most burning questions of the plot, and a brief epilogue lets you know what happened to all of the people you have grown to care so much about. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction upon watching the whole series, and if there wasn’t any more story to tell, it would still feel reasonably complete. That said? There are still a few questions left at the end and so much left to explore that the news that there are plans for a second season is welcome indeed.
There are a lot of shows that generate talk—that come off as something of a phenomenon. Stranger Things is one of those that also has a heart. More than just water cooler curiosity, Stranger Things is a rich and deep peek into a haunting new world, leaving you wondering what strange things could happen in your own.
And for 80s fans who get nostalgic watching this show, we’ve got some book recs you might want to check out in this Shelf Care: 80s Mix Tape.