It happened on a Friday night. I and a few of my fellow single ladies gathered together for a pizza and a movie night. As we scrolled through the choices on Netflix, the brand new Netflix original series Stranger Things popped up.
"Would you guys wanna watch the first episode?" I asked. "I heard this is kind of an 80s style/Spielberg-ish mystery show.”
Fast forward to 2:00 AM: We were on Episode 6, clutching couch cushions with our eyes glued to the TV in terrified suspense. To say that Stranger Things is suspenseful and scary would be the understatement of the year. But let me clarify: I do not enjoy horror movies. In my opinion, mainstream horror flicks are mostly just a mishmash of senseless violence and demonic undertones. Stranger Things is not senselessly scary, but rather delightfully scary; it’s the kind of scary you feel as a kid watching a movie that makes you want to jump behind the couch but you still peer over the cushions to find out what happens next.
The story centers around the disappearance of young Will Byers. After an evening of D&D with his buddies, he rode home on his bike and disappeared without a trace. His mother, played by a perfectly cast Wynona Rider, is frantic to find her son. The Sheriff and local townsfolk begin searching for the young boy, but something isn't quite right. Soon others begin to go missing, the owner of a diner is mysteriously murdered, and a young girl with no name emerges from the woods with a secret no one could possibly fathom. Beware of spoilers ahead!
In the midst of searching for Will Byers, it becomes evident that there is some unknown and sinister organization attempting to deceive and cover up the "strange things" happening in the town. Conversely amongst our young heroes, Will's three D&D buddies and the mysterious girl who calls herself Eleven, there is the recurring theme "Friends don't lie." While many of the kids lie to get out of sticky situations with adults, they learn in the end that honesty and trust are indispensable qualities when trying to solve a mystery of this magnitude.
One of the main characters, Nancy, has a typically 80s high school relationship with the local heartthrob, Steve. Over the course of the show, and despite the well-placed warnings of her friend Barb, she and Steve spend more and more time together until they ultimately get more intimate than they should. Afterward Nancy regrets her decision and is even more convicted when Barb goes missing and Steve turns out to be a jerk. She also has compassion on Will's brother, Jonathan Byers, who is a bit of an outcast at her school. Though a romantic relationship between them is never formed, they become good friends and ultimately are major players in solving the mystery.
Sheriff Hopper, the local sheriff who leads the search for young Will, is the stereotypical deadbeat cop who seems to pop pills and drink his troubles away. Yet as more of his story comes to the surface, we find that it was the tragic death of his daughter that broke him and fractured his marriage. Through the search and recovery of Will, he finds closure for what he lost. Similarly, many of the characters who had broken relationships such as Will's mother and Brother Jonathan, are able to come to terms with their own demons and are stronger for it.
Let me be frank: this show is scary. It earns its TV-14 rating. It's not a big spoiler to tell you that this tale involves a frightening and often violent monster who kills quite a few people (though most of the actually "scary" moments are from suspense and not gore). Several people are shot, we see what appears to be a dead child, and many of the characters get punched, hit, and thrown. The monster encases its victims in a gooey tendril-like cocoon, some of the tendrils snaking down its victim's throats.
It is apparent early on that Eleven has some kind of super powers which she uses both in self-defense and to attack those who might hurt her and her friends. She also kills several adults throwing them backward, breaking their necks, and making them bleed from their eyes.
Nancy and her teen heartthrob boyfriend get very intimate while his parents are away (despite the wise counsel of her friend Barb). Their scene is replayed in a few episode recaps throughout the series. Some of Steve’s friends also make several allusions to having sex and talk about matters related to sex. Eleven is unfamiliar with human customs of modesty and almost takes her clothes off in front of our young male protagonists (a scene that is more humorous than inappropriate). Sheriff Hopper is also seen in bed with a woman, emphasizing his broken state post-marriage/fatherhood.
I'm a huge fan of science fiction and I can tell you that for a serious science fiction/thriller/mystery nerd, Stranger Things is best of the genre I've seen in a very long time. It is however very disappointing to see so much language, violence, and sexual teen talk/situations in a show starring kids as the main characters; a factor that might confuse some parents. This show is definitely not made for kids. But for those of us who are fans of the Goonies, ET, Super 8, and perhaps even The Twilight Zone, it is ultimately an entertaining, nostalgic, and well-written story about people of all ages coming to terms with their struggles in the midst of tragedy, mystery, and inter-dimensional monsters.