Stranger Things (dir. Duffer Brothers, 2016) – A young boy disappears in small town Hawkins. To find him, his family and friends are forced to confront unknown terrors…
Taking cues from its 80s influences without falling into pastiche, Stranger Things stands as proof that there are far better alternatives to remakes.
There is a new Stephen King classic that isn’t created by Stephen King. Matt and Ross Duffer are the Gans of the King-esque Stranger Things, a Netflix eight-parter that has gone to 11 where recent horror films hover at 10.
Set in 1983, the series follows the sudden disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers, which sparks off strange happenings in Hawkins, Indiana. Joyce Byers hears whispers from the walls and believes her son is reaching out from a world beyond. Shadows of Videodrome and Poltergeist cast over the suburban tale of terror, as she soon hears him singing through the radio.
Three kids – Mike, Dustin and Lucas – join the desperate search for their missing friend. Instead, they find a young girl in their path. They come to know her as Eleven and grow interested in her secretive past. Therein lies answers that she does not know or dare to reveal.
Stranger Things is what it is like to have the best of the 80s cinema, all at once. It is as though The Goonies have biked right into the insane, gory pages of Clive Barker. The charismatic crew (nerds rule!) bring much charm and humour to their moody quest, while a tint of E.T. comes through in their unique bond with the telekinetic kid Eleven. They are no doubt the stars of a very talented ensemble cast.
Will’s older brother Jonathan Byers leads the third search party as hope continues to dwindle. Trapped in the tangles of familial trouble and teen romance, the outsider broods but endears in his own quiet ways. Somewhat of an unsung background hero, his covert kindness and his two biggest passions – photography and The Clash – ultimately pay off in unexpected ways.
Just as Stranger Things did for The Duffer Brothers. Not for a while has there been so much mainstream fanfare for a tale in the realms of horror and science fiction. Their legion of newfound fans is well-deserved. While The Duffers’ influences are clear, their homage holds its own through brilliant casting and direction.
Above all, originality is in the little details. Strong characterisation is only outdone by the careful building of Upside Down. There is so much to explore in the expansive universe and mythology that they have designed; worries about a Season 2 being derivative seems unwarranted. If there is one thing we have learnt from this show, it is that we should never, ever close the curiosity door.
Before then, we must deal with the hollow feeling as the episodes come to an end. And so the Internet digs into the Duffers’ past works to counter withdrawal. One of their earliest productions, Eater, has been making the waves online since.
Based on Peter Crowther’s story of the same name, the set-up is minimal. A rookie cop spends his night shift at the police station, where a notorious flesh-eating inmate may be on the loose. Part of him suspects hazing, another fears a more sinister possibility.
A familiar story that echoes Silence of the Lambs holds unpredictable turns along the way. Eater is spun on a tight yarn of mystery and again, shows the Duffers’ knack for sustaining suspense. Their much welcome music taste makes an appearance, too. Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart will never be the same again.