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Review: 'Stranger Things' on Netflix is a thrilling ode to '80s sci-fi and cult classics with a horror twist

12

July

Nostalgia for the 1980s and '90s is hot right now.

I wasn't alive yet in the '80s (sorry, everyone) but thanks to young parents, I grew up with a taste for campy horror, Stephen King thrillers, pop music and big hair bands.

Everything lovable about the '80s in America comes together seamlessly in Netflix's newest original series, Stranger Things.

Set in small-town Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983, the eight-part series follows the disappearance of young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and the revelations of secret government experiments, supernatural happenings and the appearance of a strange little girl named Eleven.

Desperate to find their friend, Will's buddies Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are the ones who find Eleven (Millie Brown), who barely speaks, has a shaved head and exhibits superhero-esque powers.

While the kids are discovering a lost, tormented child and supernatural forces at work, parents and Hawkins law enforcement carry out a citywide search for Will, which leads them to the front gates of a government facility with some serious conspiracy vibes.

The sleepy town where the police chief's biggest case before was an owl attempting to nest in a woman's hair doesn't stay quiet for long. The tension around Hawkins increases as the days without Will go on and the pressure to scope out the truth rests on Police Chief Jim Hopper and the telekinetic Eleven, who holds some secrets of that government facility.

Will's mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder), is the hysterical mother desperate to find her son while leaning heavily on her oldest son for support. She's one of the usual mystery subjects. What she discovers is essential to Will's rescue, but it's doubtful anyone will take her seriously until it's almost too late.

The best part of Stranger Things is not the story, but the way series creators Matt and Ross Duffer (Wayward Pines) tell the story. Sure, they could've set this in 2016 or in the future, but plopping it in the early '80s feeds the nostalgia for the Spielberg-filled era with hat tips to E.T., The Goonies, Poltergeist and Stephen King.

A sci-fi thriller with a ragtag group of nerdy middle schoolers saving the day is so much more enticing set in 1983. Watching cynical Lucas, adorable Dustin and starry-eyed Mike play Dungeons and Dragons and communicate with rather large walkie-talkies feels more authentic than if they had smartphones and iPods.

And whose heart wouldn't skip a beat watching Will and his older brother, Jonathan, bob their heads to The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go on a record player? I also got goosebumps watching blonde, pig-tailed Holly Wheeler follow ghostly noises in the Byers home a la Poltergeist.

But the show isn't just paying homage to the pop culture of the decade, it's trying to be it. These references and plot styles aren't Easter eggs; they're there to tell a story in the way it would've been told 30-some years ago. The show even went so far as to apply a layer of real film grain for a more vintage look after being shot digitally.

Stranger Things turns rotary phones, tangled Christmas lights and Dungeons and Dragons game pieces into major plot devices, throwing out hundreds of puzzle pieces that slowly come together in heartbreaking and humorous twists set to David Bowie's Heroes.

For Gen-Xers, Stranger Things is step back in time. For millennials, it's more vintage material and modern sci-fi to gush over.

Either way, good luck pacing yourself.

All eight episode of Stranger Things are available July 15 on Netflix.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

 

[Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2016 10:57am]

    

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