Thursday, June 15, 2017

Stranger Things - Season 1 (2016)

Stranger Things is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s.  It nails the 80s theme and atmosphere perfectly, bringing a rush of nostalgia if you've watched films from that era.  The first season is comprised of eight episodes, at roughly 50 mins long.  Despite this, the pacing is uneven and unfortunately, a lot is kept in suspense even after finishing.  Stranger Things start off with a twinge of horror, setting the expectations for the rest of the season.  By the end of the first episode, a kid named Will Byers goes missing and it introduces Eleven, a mysterious girl that has unspecified powers.  Perhaps surprisingly, the stars of the show are three young kids of 12 who are best friends:  Mike, Lucas and Dustin.

The three friends are attending middle school although they have the expansive vocabulary to swear and talk about girls, yet make immature jokes which feels a bit strange at their young age.  Apart from Mike and his gang, the story is told from other multiple viewpoints of different characters.  These viewpoints include Will's mother and the local police chief, as they try to solve the mystery.  Then there's Mike's sister Nancy, and Will's brother, Jonathan, as they try and solve the mystery as well.  The viewer will be curious to see how all these viewpoints interrelate and waiting for the crossover that is definitely coming.  Stranger Things does a good job at showing off the bonds of friends and family, plus the strain it places on them when their friend/child goes missing.  You feel the same despair and panic as the mother as she tries to desperately search for her son.

Despite the addictive tense suspense and a strong hint of the supernatural being behind the disappearance, one of the biggest flaws of the show is the pacing.  It has a slow beginning, it starts to open up a bit and reveal more of the mystery at the end of episode 2.  It seems to ramp up in pace from episode 3 and 4 when we finally get a clear idea of what is actually happening but then it stalls.  We're treated to everyday normal events such as bullying of various characters, family arguments and conspiracies.  These events does nothing to advance the main plot, which is the supernatural element.  We want to know why it is happening, how it is happening and what is known about it, yet we never get an answer to these questions despite the series constantly teasing us about them.

The lack of real explanations with substance ends up causing everything to feel bloated and by the end of it, feeling like you haven't learnt much at all over the course of 7+ hours.  The acting, especially the young actors, is fantastic.  They convey the feelings quite well, from how Eleven's relationship with the three protagonists is strained, fluctuating between arguments and trust.  Although their constant bickering can feel jarring and Lucas' extreme prejudice is annoying.  Eleven's background is slowly revealed in various flashbacks.  She is effectively a human experiment but once again, we're not treated with too much on the nature of her powers.  Most of the characters at one point or another, will act contrary to what everyone else says that they shouldn't, which is another point of annoyance.

Stranger Things uses loud music and sudden sound effects for scares.  It's very effective especially since you're expecting it, but just don't know at which exact point.  All these events culminate into the final episode where finally, things happen.  The pacing is faster, events are much more interesting and things get clearer.  They fight the monster, they physically enter the supernatural aspect but as mentioned earlier, so many things are left unexplained.  How did the monster came about?  What is its purpose?  How did it manage to get out?  How can it disappear so easily?  Overall, Stranger Things has a strong premise and a great concept.  It nails the atmosphere and the 80s theme but the pacing is uneven, the cliched ending of showing that all is not yet perfect and the lack of wrapping up loose plot threads that it had been teasing all throughout the season, holds it back.


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