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‘Stranger Things’ atmosphere, acting supports exemplary storytelling

‘Stranger Things’ –– starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown
9.5 out of 10

By Kaleb Lucero ’18

When Netflix released “Stranger Things” July 15, no one quite expected it to explode like it did in the following months.

On the outside, especially from the trailer, it looks like a regular mystery series, where some kid goes missing and it’s up to the old small town sheriff to solve the puzzle.

To keep from spoiling anything, but also to provide a bit more context than the show’s advertisements, I’ll say this: The Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things” is so much more complex than just that.

Will, Joyce Byers’ son in the show, does indeed go missing, but the actual reason is far more unearthly, beyond the understanding of accepted science. And it is because of this that a more human evil becomes involved––a clandestine government organization conducting dark experiments.

The show leaves the responsibility of discovering the truth to Will’s group of close-knit friends, a girl with telekinetic powers named Eleven, the sheriff (Jim Hopper) and Will’s mother; all of whom experience events that convince them that Will may be closer than everyone else thinks.

It is these characters, along with a few key others, that make the story so gripping and so easy to invest in.

The acting was well done by everyone, especially by the kids and Winona Ryder, who, along with brilliant writing and realistic dialogue, make the whole thing so much more immersive.

The show and the writers did a splendid job of exploring the innocence, the self-determination and that sense of close friendship that so well defined 80’s movies like “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me.”

Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, deserves an ovation of her own, as she perfectly displays this mature yet still child-like character of a tormented 12 year-old girl, and seems to have embodied that quiet and serious nature of a child borne with pressures well beyond her years. Beyond any years, actually.

Joyce, the likewise tormented mother, plays the convincing role of the character who sees things but can’t quite prove it. You know, the “insane” person, who sees lights flickering, hears disembodied voices and sees faces in the walls. That one.

Now, this isn’t to say that all of the actors don’t deserve to have the same praise, but I think these few did a great job of essentially making it all “work.”

The show is so well paced and skillfully written that every main character has his or her own compelling story, which really helps develop characters and their relationships throughout the show. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the character development in “Stranger Things” is the best I’ve ever seen.

I would think that this and the excellent pacing owe themselves to the fact that “Stranger Things” is more of a mini-series, like “Band of Brothers,” where each episode is about an hour long.

This makes a quite unique situation since each episode doesn’t have to be quite as self contained as a movie, but it doesn’t have to suffer what TV shows generally deal with, which is having to make almost a miniature story within each and every episode.

The way the Duffer Brothers did it is so that each episode can have a clear, well developed story, which progresses the overall plot while making it just short enough as to not leave the reader behind in the massive enigma that is the show’s backstory.

Speaking of said mystery, it should be mentioned that all the elements are so perfectly introduced and expanded so that the viewer can engage in trying to solve the mystery, which is one of the things that kept me coming back episode after episode.

The “horror” elements (I hesitate to use “horror,” it almost seems to give a connotation of excessive and poorly written jump-scares) of “Stranger Things” takes a lot from “The Poltergeist,” yet adds much more to the equation.

For one, the supernatural entity has a gravity that is rarely seen in any movie or TV show. The weight, the crushing enormity of the atmosphere surrounding this “character,” almost never leaves you throughout the entirety of the series. The mere potential of its presence in a scene is enough to put your nerves on edge.

Despite the atmosphere, the suspense, the plot and the acting, the show has a few problems when it comes to originality and plot holes.

“Stranger Things” is no doubt meant to be an 80’s movie, and the plethora of tributes to the aforementioned actual 80’s movies is easily seen to anyone in the position to understand the references.

Often, however, it might seem that instead of being just a tribute, it’s more of just a copy of certain ideas from those movies, so a lot of scenes might feel very familiar.

However, I didn’t notice this the first time I watched the show, and I think that “Stranger Things” does more than enough to add substance to those old ideas in a way that at least gives a refreshing take on it.

My real problem with the show is that there are moments where lazy writing or tropes ruined the intensity. There are various instances of Deus ex Machina, where someone comes to the rescue at just the right moment, or where a character basically just punches their way out of problems.

What’s more is that during even the most heart-pounding moments, there are times where the character will, say, step on something and alert the monster, or trip while running away.

These examples are somewhat rare, it’s still a shame the writers would allow such small moments of weakness to being down what is, without a doubt, one of the greatest masterpieces of their careers.

All in all, the near-perfect mix of mystery and suspense, combined with realistic acting, a convincing atmosphere and a thorough consideration to a fleshed out and expansive backstory create an extraordinary show. I would even say that the effect of this makes it equal, if not greater, in power than the most well-known classics of past generations. The poignant storytelling of “Stranger Things” earns itself a 10 out of 10, with only a few let-down moments that drag it to a 9.5 out of 10.

“Stranger Things” is without a doubt a game changer for TV shows and mini-series, and is certainly something that everyone should see at least once.

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