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DRAMA REVIEW: STRANGER THINGS (S1)

If you haven't heard of 'Stranger Things' by now you must have been in the Upside Down with no wifi signal to tune into Netflix. One year ago the world was plunged into an epic 80's sci-fi thriller world where Dungeons and Dragons, VHS cassettes and BMX bikes were all the rage, and now, with the eruption of Season 2 hitting our tv and mobile screens, it seems fitting to look back on where this journey began...

Since the late 1890's the imaginations of people all around the globe have been fascinated by the possibility of life on other planets and visitors from outer space. Thanks to the great early science-fiction authors such as H.G. Wells and John Wyndham, the books 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Crysalids' taught us that the scientifically impossible could be found perhaps not only amongst the stars, but amongst ourselves.


From then on humanity looked upwards, wondering, researching, hypothesising about things that should be left untouched. In the early 1980's, when the modern science-fiction movement was really coming into its own, audiences were captivated by films that truly embraced these fantastical ideas: 'The Thing', 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' all set the stage for an extra-terrestrial experience. With the likes of Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg at the helm there was no knowing where the cinema screen would take us next.

'Stranger Things' humbly takes into account all of the work of the sci-fi greats. From inserting behind-the-scenes movie info to providing memorable and loving references, the series provides a link to the past and, at the same time, creates something extraordinary. Promising nerve-wrecking suspense and terrifying supernatural occurrences, the Netflix Original series is a fantastic showcase of classic psychological thriller and scientific conspiracy based in a small Indiana Town where nothing ever happens.


EXTREMELY MILD SPOILERS AHEAD


Meet Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) - a typical bunch of  12 year-old misfit, nerdy, fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts. With a bond of friendship between them akin to that of 'Super 8' and 'The Goonies', their comedic bickering and stereotypical geek knowledge is sure to be an instant win with fans of the era. There's talk of comics, Star Wars and  even the Lord of the Rings (or the Hobbit in some cases, but let's not argue on that topic). And yet amidst the games and innocent banter, something sinister lurks in the shadows, waiting for the opportune moment to take both the characters and audience by surprise.


In a slow build-up of dark roads and flickering bicycle lights, the tone is set as Will, the youngest son of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) encounters something terrifying on the path home through Mirkwood, the twilight hour tolling with nervous anticipation. Eerie bicycle wheels circling to a halt and dead phone lines create an exciting tension as the young Hawkins town boy backs into his shed, gun raised as he waits, listening for the predator to finish circling its prey. But as the sound design fades and Will's heavy breathing comes to the forefront, the audience is left hanging on the edge of their sits, already drawn into the story in just under 8 minutes of viewing time.


In a flash Will is gone, and it is immediately apparent that there are far stranger forces at play.

Whilst the plot is shrouded by mysterious government facilities and the creeping threat of an unknown evil increases, it is the character's individual stories that really drives the series on, with their quirkiness and the fabulous flaws that essentially make a character lovable. The kids especially are a joy to watch, and their journey proves just how important acceptance, kindness and friendship really is. If anything, the series provides valuable lessons for today's young viewers: stick with your true friends, don't make promises you can't keep, and don't go out at night alone!

Accompanying the boys is Millie Bobby Brown, and her performance as the enigmatic Eleven is nothing short of astounding. Conveying much of her character through subtle actions and a deep intensity of emotion, Millie brings both mystery and a sweet vulnerability to the table, often through simple glances or words. Whilst the true nature of her character remains unknown, the more she learns about what it is to be a normal kid, the more her personality comes to light. Her interaction with both the kids and the adults is at times hilarious, and other times devastatingly sad. And if you don't know what Eggo's are, you'll certainly never forget them after watching this series.


As the three main leading adults, Joyce Byers, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Dr Brenner (Matthew Modine) all have different roles to play: the hysterical mother that no one believes; the calm Sheriff determined to uncover the truth; the villainous scientist whose creepy silent smile tells the audience all they need to know. The contrast of these characters alone brings such a diverse range of talents, and Ryder, Harbour and Modine all give incredibly moving performances.



Other characters to look out for include Steve Harrington - who you may have heard called 'Dad-Steve' by now (Joe Keery), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Barbara 'Barb' Holland (Shannon Purser) who all add a brilliant dimension to this twisty-turvy, upside-down story that is wholly unpredictable.

Despite being rated a 15, 'Stranger Things' has been labelled a family-friendly horror - although this does depend on how much language you can stomach and how easily spooked your children are. With a classic 80's title sequence combined with Carpenter-esque synthesised music that resembles Daft Punk's soundtrack for TRON: Legacy, Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have pulled out all the stops to fully immerse their audience in the nostalgic-ridden world of the 1980's. In essence, it pays homage to every sci-fi movie ever made.

Whilst Netflix continues to create new, original series, it would seem that 'Stranger Things' will rise to become one of, if not the best they have made to date. (And that's taking into account everything that has come out of 2017 so far too). It is without a doubt so irresistibly appealing that viewers will find it hard not to indulge themselves and binge-watch the entire series in just one sitting. So, if you're easily startled grab a pillow and watch during daylight hours, if not then grab some popcorn and tuck yourself in for one heck of a rollercoaster ride - though you may want a pillow handy just in case.

View trailer for Series 1 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWxyRG_tckY
View trailer for Series 2 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1ZXOOLMJ8s

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