Main Features No 58
That 1980s Place Where Nostalgic Homages Are From.
Back to the 1980s, where young Will Byers disappears. His friends, family and the police look for him, with the help of a young girl with telekinetic powers and a frightening past…
Stranger Things | Trailer 1 [HD] | Netflix, Netflix US & Canada, www youtube.com
So one cold and wintry weekend, we not only invested in Netflix but watched the whole of the much acclaimed Stranger Things (2016) first series. It’s a joy from start to finish, and will keep you so enthralled that you will either watch it all in one sitting or if you have enough willpower (or a life), 3 sittings. Set in 1983, I felt Stranger Things was an homage to many 1980s movies from E.T. (1982) to Stand by Me (1986), from Aliens (1986) to Heathers (1988). Within the plot, it has all the ingredients for an 1980s movie, a band of boys, their bullies, a bad guy scientist, a misfit brother, a ’80s douchebag, a cop with a heart and that iconic 80s mother figure. The 80s matriarch was the actress that you always recognised in the film from some other movie, but never knew her name unless you were of a certain age. Here she is played by Winona Ryder. The ’80s douchebag by definition, think James Spader in just about every one of his 1980s film appearances. Bad guys are Martin Bremner and his cronies, and underneath Martin’s shock of white hair he is played by
Ted Danson Matthew Modine.
So whats all the commotion about? Set in Hawkins, Indiana, a wee town where everyone knows everybody. It starts in Hawkins Laboratory, where a scientist is attacked by an unseen monster. Meanwhile, a band of four of Dungeons and Dragons fans – Dustin, Lucas, Will and Steve – become three when one of them disappears mysteriously after three of them bike home after a game session, one dark night. The missing boy is Will Byers, aged 12 and youngest of two sons of Joyce (Ryder). Joyce is a divorced mum whose husband Lonnie left her for a much younger woman. And she’s a nice wee nod to all the 1980s movie mums. Will’s big brother is Jonathan, the school teenage misfit, with shades of Christian Slater from Heathers but distinctly less murderous. But he’s a sensitive soul with a passion for photography and his kid brother’s best friend Mike’s older sister, Nancy. Nancy however has recently started dating apparent 1980s douchebag, Steve and hangs out with him and his awful cronies. Despite the warnings from best friend, Barbara. Barbara feels his friends are phony and Steve insincere.
Meanwhile the cop with the heart, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) – but with a sad past masked behind his drinking – is looking for him too. Joyce meanwhile is appearing unwell, frantically claiming she can communicate with Will via her alphabetically labelled Christmas Lights and spending her unearned pay to fund her apparent craziness. On the run is Eleven, an almost mute, psychokintic girl with shaved hair and distinctive clothing. She has been subjected to experiments from birth by her nasty father figure Martin from the evil laboratory. The boys discover this girl – after she’s killed a few of Martin’s team who hunted her down – knows Will’s whereabouts… so Steve takes her in to learn more, finding she speaks few words. However the bad guys are after them, and the monster is a lurking..
I’m not going to tell you any more about this series, but let you enjoy it for yourselves. As for the acting, I must firstly commend the young stars of the show. Like The Goonies (1985), these boys make a great team and each one has their moment to shine, which they do brilliantly. Little Millie Bobby Brown who plays El, who learns to communicate more throughout the series is fantastic, her eyes and body language convey more emotion from fear, to anger to trust. She pulled all my emotions when acting with her big brown eyes, and it was lovely seeing her slowly bond and trust the boys. Ryder plays a great single 80s mum. I loved Harbour as the troubled cop, it was nice seeing his back story – his daughter had died from cancer and was separated from his wife – which brought out his protective instinct looking for the missing boy and El. Some great 80s movie scenes were almost recreated scene by scene and in some they led to unexpected conclusions, such as when El demonstrates her telekinetic powers.
The series has been compared to having three story lines with a Spielberg coming of age homage from the boys, and a John Hughes horror one for the teens and Joyce in a psychological horror movie. The film also used props to support the Spielberg film homage theory, be it the boys bikes to a disguise also used in ET for El using a wee frock and blonde wig. But also with the influences from the darker side of a Stephen King film, namely Stand By Me for the boys and influences of Carrie in El. With the teens who I felt also reminded me initially of a John Hughes film, I felt characters were more reminiscent of the film Heathers as the series progressed. With Jonathan teaming up with Nancy to find his brother, you hoped for a romance.. as you did when watching Heathers with its lead teen characters.
As for the homages, the font used in movie’s title reminded me of a Stephen King novel. The music is spooky which parallels the dark side to the story. There are also some 80s musical tracks on the soundtrack. There were some nice twists on 80s film character stereotypes. Such as with Joyce, the 80s mum but much more feisty than Dianne Wiest who often played this type of role. However with a mutual concern for her kids and anger towards her apparently useless ex. There was another major twist with one stereotypical character, which felt strangely out-of-place in the series. And to be honest, I was disappointed to see as I had hoped for a much different outcome for this character. However the nicest homage had to be the inclusion of that 80’s gal herself star of Beetlejuice (1988) and Heathers, Winona Ryder. So I’m hoping this trend will continue in subsequent seasons with yet more familiar faces from this era perhaps with an ex-Brat Pack member or two, but Stranger Things have happened… as I’ve just read Sean Astin – from The Goonies and Paul Reiser from Aliens will be joining the cast for series 2.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Bonus Trailer: Yes
Stranger Things | Trailer 2[HD] | Netflix, Netflix US & Canada, www youtube.com