Caleb McLaughlin, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Joe Keery, Matthew Modine, Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Netflix, Noah Schnapp, Randall P. Havens, Shannon Purser, Stranger Things, The Duffer Brothers, Winona Ryder
Netflix have done it again. Welcome to Hawkins, Indiana – a small town where everyone knows everything about everybody else. Neighbours are friendly, kids ride their bikes to their friends’ house any time of the day and teenagers are still just as mean and rebellious as they ever have been in the history of storytelling.
On this particular November evening in 1983, a group of boys – Will (Noah Schnapps), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) – are heading home on their bikes after having spent 10 hours playing Dungeons & Dragons at their friend, Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) house. Will never makes it home.
Come daylight, Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) asks her teenage son, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) to get Will ready for school before realising that Will, uncharacteristically, has not been home. After making some calls, she becomes concerned and reports her missing child to the local police chief and her one-time lover, Jim “Hop” Hopper (David Harbour). Initially dismissing Joyce’s pleas as an overreaction, Hop nevertheless begins investigating Will’s disappearance when a local diner owner is found murdered after reports that a child had wandered into the diner earlier that day.
That child turns out to be a girl, named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has a buzz-cut, hence the misidentification as possibly the missing Will. Eleven is being hunted by a group of secret government official-type, led by Dr Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and a bunch of science nerds and the firepower of the military police, so you know they mean business.
Eleven manages to escape the evil clutches of Brenner and his cronies, but only because she has telekinetic powers that can do awesome things (like make people’s brains implode or throw men twice her size against the wall with her mind), and is rescued by Mike and his pals. Mike takes Eleven home and hides her in the basement, gives her his teenage sister’s old clothes and a wig to make her look more like a girl and quickly enlists her help to find Will.
Meanwhile, on the teenage-girl-lies-to-parents-about-a-boy-she-wants-to-sleep-with front, Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is hanging out with nerdy best friend Barb (Shannon Purser), new boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) and his bully friends at Steve’s house while his parents are away. Barb disappears as mysteriously as Will does except nobody but Nancy is convinced she didn’t just run away from home.
I don’t want to spoil any more of this engaging series by telling you what happens to Will and Barb, who or what got them, or what the mysterious government agents were doing with Eleven. Suffice to say this eight-part series created by The Duffer Brothers (twins Ross and Matt Duffer) is like The Goonies meet E.T meet Alien meet Haven (or any other supernatural-type movie or TV show or book you can think of) but in the very best way.
Like many of these Netflix originals, Stranger Things was released in its entirety on July 15 worldwide, which means the creators mean for you to binge-watch the show but this doesn’t mean each episode doesn’t have its own little cliffhanger to make sure you don’t leave your couch for eight hours. By the end of the second episode, I was totally hooked but I was also wary of it having a disappointing ending like the first season of Wayward Pines (of which The Duffer Brothers also directed a couple of episodes). However, I am happy to report this first season solves all the mysteries raised in the first seven episodes but leaves enough breadcrumbs to make you want to come back for more in the finale, should there be a second season (I hope Netflix is going to give it the green light soon).
The young cast does a great job and absolutely steal the show at every turn, especially Millie Bobby Brown who has to say more with a look than with words. The boys and the older kids are right out of The Goonies and make me yearn for the ’80s all over again. Winona Ryder plays the distraught mother in a sympathetic way that doesn’t make her look weak or overbearing, which can sometimes be the two extremes we see on so many shows. David Harbour is a familiar face that pops up everywhere and I have never loved him more than as the deeply-flawed Police Chief whose marriage had broken down after the death of his daughter to illness and is determined to find Will.
In contrast, Matthew Modine’s role is smaller than I had expected, though not exactly an unimportant part, but seems like he was vastly under-utilised in this case. If there is a second season, I wonder if they will explain his backstory a little, especially given his relationship to Eleven. Honourable mention needs to go to Randall P. Havens who plays the boys’ science teacher, Mr Clarke, for without his help, we might never have understood the “Upside Down” or how to create a sensory deprivation tank out of an inflatable pool and a lot of salt.
Happy hunting and make sure you have plenty of snacks to keep you going for the next eight hours!