Imagine a dinner, somewhere in a small restaurant, the lights are dimmed, some are even blickering. The guest list includes people like Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Sean S. Cunningham, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi who arrives a bit late but still has some influence on the discussed topics. All those people sit together, drink wine and enjoy their meal and while doing that they share some stories and ideas. These ideas get written down in little notebooks, which somehow get lost and may stay lost until … the Duffer Brothers appear on the scenery. Completely ignoring the possible existence of such notes they embrace the idea of such a meeting and make a tv show of their own, referencing to movies and shows from this very productive era of horror, scifi and fantasy flicks.
The story starts with four boys – Will, Dustin, Mike and Lucas – that play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) in the cellar of the house of the Wheeler family in the late evening hours. After playing for about ten hours, they reach the end of the game where they confront the monster, the so-called Demogorgon, the beast they were looking for in the first place. Unfortunately they get disturbed by Mike’s mother reminding them that the kids should head home. Right after they end their session without defeating the monster. We follow the steps of Will Byers, one of the boys and see him cycling on his way home. He gets shocked because he sees a figure standing right in front of him on the road and because he gets scared he runs directly home where he finds an empty home. Neither mother or brother are home and he gets scared and runs in the garden, where he hides and at the moment when he feels a bit safe he disappears.
Next day the disappearance of the boy leads to a search and speculation, we see rumors spreading throughout the community. We learn more about the community, especially about some of the members. Starting with Nancy, the mother and Jonathan, Will’s brother who immediately start looking.
From this point things start to get really strange – a strange girls is found, strange because she doesn’t talk and seemingly has some abilities like moving objects, government agents arrive on the scenery and we see labs where experiments take place, another girl gets abducted and we see more of another dimension.
The story is told by separating the people – relatives and friends who are looking for Will – in three different parties, mostly by age. We have the Young Ones, the Teenagers and the Adults, all investigating the strange things that are happening in their home town.
– The Young Ones:
Here we find the three boys that start looking for their friend, by doing so they find the lost girl called Eleven. Together they investigate step by step, never stopping to believe that Will is alive and can be saved. The three boys are amazing, Mike is the committed one, intelligent and who also shows social capabilities. Dustin, the boy that lisps is often the rock in the group, coming up with rational reasons to keep them all together. He often gets mobbed by other kids in school, partly because of his missing front teeth. Lastly we meet Lucas, who is straight forward and always telling what he thinks, no matter the cost. Due to this he often causes discussions, sometimes even quarrels within the group. The finding and even more the consequences that came with the girl called Eleven often leads to discussions. Eleven joins the group of boys in the very first episode and first we find her being the center of the group for most of the time. During the story we see them grow together, developing a special friendship.
This part somehow showed the most possible references to some movies of the late 70s and 80s, here we find ‘E.T.’, ‘Explorers’, ‘Stand by me’, ‘The Goonies’ among many others. Name any Teenie-Horror-SciFi-Comedy-flick of those times and you may find hints in the storytelling of the adventure of those kids here.
– The Teenagers:
This part starts with Jonathan who looks for his younger brothers. Apart from the tragedy of losing his brother we also learn that he is in love with Mike’s older sister Nancy. She on the other hand is more interested in Steve, who is the popular kid. One night he follows them, shoots some photos that are discovered later on. Nancy sees the pictures, gets curious about this boy and a friendship evolves between them, for the moment even a collaboration to find out wether Will died or not.
Here the visions of Sam Raimi and Sean S. Cunningham come together, from ‘Friday the 13th’ to ‘Evil Dead’. We get the usual bunch of teenagers, looking for fun but finding possible threat by a monster. Maybe even get killed, that’s for the viewer to find out.
– The Adults:
Here we have Joyce, Will’s mother who gets – understandably – very emotional after the news are out that her son is lost. From the very first moment she never gives up and fights to find her son, she doesn’t even stop when things get strange very fast. She acts strangely herself and therefore nobody except the Sheriff believe her. Jim Hopper, the Chief of this town lost his daughter some years ago because she got cancer. May it be this loss or that he feels sympathic for Joyce we never really know. He supports her whenever and wherever he can, he even is curious and bold enough to explore some dangerous places all by himself.
The collaboration of those two is mostly dominated by references to movies like ‘Poltergeist’. Like the way she gets in contact with her son and how Jim supports her all the way.
During the story we see many other characters, from family and friends to neighbors, teachers and more. This being mentioned the show never feels overcrowded, the writers manage to give each character enough space on screen to be important for the viewer. The storytelling, especially unfolding the mystery people are confronted with is pacing. Step by step we get drawn into this scenery, there is seldom a moment where the viewer stops looking at the screen because other things may be more important. From beginning to the end everything fits perfectly well, even the references which often do get discussed since the show was aired are never too much. Starting with music and posters, things that are implemented to make perfectly clear in which time this show is settled it feels like an episode from ‘Gilmore Girls’ when you take look at all the pop-culture references. Hard to get all of them, it often seems that pieces of characters and dialogues are put there.
This is an amazing piece of work, there is suspense from start till end. Many lovable elements for those who grew up with the movies of the late 70s and 80s, and fun for those who did’t grew up with them. This is something that is difficult to accomplish but writers, directors and the cast made it possible. In the end SPOILER ALERT it makes you ask for more, even that most of the story comes to a satisfying end.