There’s a Game of Thrones gap in my life that has now been nuked by a ‘Stranger Things’ gap. In the aftermath, I feel like a beloved pet has just died. In just 8 episodes, Stranger Things made me excited, inspired, flattered, and it made me care about things, and people that were pretty ridiculous. The hugely popular (and now cult) series didn’t have the world’s most colossal budget, (but an evidently big one) or a colossal cast of exceptional shakespearean thespians slumming it. But, like the coolest cat at the party, it was intricately composed, while appearing free and easy. Its characters were whole, without having to lord it. Its settings took you back to your own past, without looking like the set designer was enjoying himself too much.
Like most, I binged the lot, like a Cartman with a bucket of popcorn, a dark room and no friends. I screamed, but I loved it. And I tried to figure out why it’s so bloody lovely. This is my theory:
Everything has been thought of, delicately enough to look like it hasn’t. Shot on an impossibly expensive camera, ‘The Red Dragon’, a layer of subtle ‘frosting’ film was added to give the overall feel a subtle “VHS” look that adds subliminally to an overall feel of authenticity (more subtly than the crackling opening credits).
The composition of each frame is as painterly as Pans Labrynth, from dancing particles of ash, to monochrome Barb sitting on a diving board. And the subtle colour grading throughout never gets in the way.
This is everything that makes Stranger Things an Instant Cult classic. Egregiously referring to the era that is the apex of Stephen King and John Carpenter, there is an innocence to sci-fi, horror and comedy from this period that allows films to be all three genres without having to stake a sole claim in one and own it vehemently. Stranger Things is not a buddy flick, horror film, thriller, drama or vintage homily. It is free to be all of them at once.
The Duffer brothers chose the last period of time when popular culture was still innocent. Celebrities still had bad hair and teeth, and teenagers wore cardigans knitted by their mothers. When sanitised MTV culture stole the 90s from us, it paved the way for High School Musical, not awkward kids playing boardgames. The 80s is a time we can still remember with a warm nostalgia- where fads, toys and brands came and went without brands declaring their domination. And we miss it.
We now live in an era with too much excellent drama, in our golden age of almost too many rich, believable characters and plots set in the real world, we’ve been spoiled. Over the last ten years we’ve had Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and so many powerful character arcs and compelling stories we feel a part of. Because the standard, thanks to HBO and Netflix, is so high now, it’s refreshing to meet characters that, at first, don’t appear to ask too much of us – where, with the luxury of eight hours and not two, we are allowed to appreciate them, on whichever level we choose to.
The characters are developed, and believable, but you could happily sit back and just gorge on the E.T. and Goonie-ness of it all with a little healthy shit-yourself-fear thrown in. The casting however, is the golden ticket. The Duffer Brothers struggled to sell the show to a series of networks primarily because nobody wanted to bank on a horror format with children as the stars. And that’s exactly what makes this whole thing precious. I’ll say more about that.
You can now get the Soundtrack on iTunes. The sound design for Stranger Things is not simply a homage to 80s synth. It gets it. The Duffer Brothers (my new unequivocal crush) actively sought out Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, and it was one of the best decisions they made. Dixon and Stein do not over do it. We’re aware of the score, and yes, it manipulates, but, unlike in Game of Thrones (which is brilliant at orchestrated crescendos versus softly-stepped acoustic anticipation), it frames, and subtly leads us, without giving anything away. Somehow, all it does is add to the whole beautiful thing.
Have I raved too much? I’m not done yet.
The unknowns and the knowns. The five twelve year olds at the heart of this are not Hermione Grangers or “seeing dead people”. Whether it’s the child stars, or the brilliant direction of the Duffers, the action is simply taking place, and the boys and girl seem completely unaware of the camera. I really want to see how good they’ll be in other projects, or whether this is about the whole production.
We can laugh at these eleven year olds, but we care about them, because Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Materazzo and Noah Schnapp are each brilliant. The teens too. Joe Keery’s annoying Steve Harrington won the directors round, enough to change his character’s plotline and keep him in it, as more than a basic bully. Natalie Dyer’s Nancy Wheeler was sweet but strong, kind but manipulative, and grew to dominate with every scene.
My Questions. # # # S P O I L E R S # # #
- If the Demagorgon senses blood, surely that makes every menstrual lady in the town a target? And also.. the hospital?
- Which came first – the egg or the slug?
- Where is the dog. Why does nobody care what happens to the dog?
- Can we have a prequel purely about Barb? She’s amazing. Totally worthy of the memes she’s been generating.
- 3 juicy relationships – Eleven & Mike, Sweetly-Badass Nancy and whichever-one’s-about, and of course, Joyce and Hopper. Really wanted the last one to happen..
- In series two, will the children have the same innocence that makes this so accessible? Or will puberty take a massive bite out of the playfulness of the whole thing?
- That article on the noticeboard. Many, many questions about that.
- How is the carbon-based, carnivorous Demagorgon so impervious to bullets/flames/massive leg-spiked traps
- I love it that the Demagorgon is now being described as “Tulip Head”. I’d like to see how far they can steer this away from being a bit too “Aliens”/”Predator” in the next series.
- Eleven. Can she not just become Hopper’s adopted child and then everyone’s happy? That would make me happy.
I’ve said enough.