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Weekly Watch: ‘Stranger Things’

| Monday, September 5, 2016

StrangerThings_WEBLAUREN WELDON | The Observer

Netflix’s latest addition to its catalog of original programming, “Stranger Things,” is a sci-fi/horror series set in 1980s Indiana. The idyllic suburb where the series is set is quickly disrupted by two events: the mysterious disappearance of local middle-schooler Will Byers and appearance of a girl in a hospital gown known only as Eleven. From these two pivotal moments, the plot gradually unfolds.

The narrative of “Stranger Things” is a slow burn with frequent shifts between the perspectives of the main characters as well as the mysterious happenings within Hawkins Lab. The shifts help the viewer put together the mythos of the story world, keeping just enough hidden to continue to pique interest.

For the first half of the season, the darker secrets of the show remain hidden, barring glimpses of a grander scheme at work as Byers’ family and friends search for him. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is an enigmatic character whose supernatural powers are crucial in the search for Byers. Frequent flashbacks reveal bits and pieces of information that connect to the story in subtle ways. Each episode escalates and divulges slightly more about the world and its characters, and by the fourth episode the sci-fi aspects of the plot are in full swing.

The cast of “Stranger Things” incorporates both household names and newcomers. In her portrayal of Byers’ mother, Winona Ryder’s panic can be felt through the screen. Yet, Brown’s performance is the most impressive. She speaks very few lines throughout the season, and as a result her words carry substantial weight. Her face expresses her emotions and communicates her intentions without words, quickly eliciting sympathy for her character. Will’s ensemble of friends — Dustin, Lucas and Mike — provide much of the comic relief in the show, as well as some of its most emotionally loaded moments.

“Stranger Things” has a distinct nostalgic character, due in equal parts to setting and sound. The soundtrack’s dreary ambiance pays homage to 1980s sci-fi films like “Blade Runner.” With well-timed audio cues and fantastic sound design, the soundtrack immerses viewers in the series’ unsettling world. As the plot escalates, the music grows in intensity. The cinematography at work juxtaposes the small town feel of Hawkins, Indiana with more the more sinister atmosphere of the lab and later locations. The execution is believable, and although fictional, each episode feels like an actual window to the past.

Despite all of its merits, “Stranger Things” isn’t without flaws. The plot is predictable at points, and the characters fall in line with classic ‘80s archetypes. However, the mundanity of these aspects of the show juxtapose with the unexpected supernatural element, strengthening its impact.

From excellent acting and plot to the rich world the music and visuals immerse you in, “Stranger Things” qualifies as binge-worthy. The hype is well-deserved, and despite a few nit-picks that could have been better, the show delivers a unique experience that will have you waiting on edge for season two.

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