Spoiler alert: Stranger Things (Netflix) is one big spoiler. From beginning to end. Within a few minutes you’ll be thinking, “Do I recognise that?” And once you figure out that you’re watching a patchwork of scenes and soundtracks from Eighties movies, you’ll know the plot before it’s even been recycled.
The scares are fun, the acting strong, the plot simple. Boy goes missing in sleepy town, his friends go in search for him on their bicycles (straight out of Stand By Me). They encounter a telekinetic girl (The Fury) who has escaped from a nearby government lab – and before you can say Prince of Darkness, a John Carpenter film with almost the same plot, it turns out that she’s opened a gate between one dimension and another. The rest is homage spotting.
Girl is hidden in a basement from the authorities (ET), has her best visions in an isolation tank (Altered States) and makes noses and eyes bleed (Scanners). There’s a monster running around that lays eggs and hugs faces (Aliens). The cute kids battling it remind us of The Goonies. The school they attend is a bit Breakfast Club. At one point a science nerd even watches the body horror movie The Thing and calmly explains to his girlfriend that none of it is real. Relax baby, it’s all done with latex and popcorn.
Some reviewers with fond memories of the 1980s have warmed to the show, and there’s no denying that the weaving of imagery and ominous synthesiser soundtrack recaptures an epochal mood. Life was full of greater possibility back then because it was a bit smaller: without the world wide web to distract us, we were forced to go outside and explore the mysteries in our own backyards.
But the audience for that kind of nostalgia has its movie in JJ Abrams’s Super 8 – and that was blessedly shorter than these eight episodes of one hour each. Stranger Things’s biggest problem is that it simply isn’t substantial enough to justify all the padding. Drop about six characters, cut down the in-jokes and you’d have an infinitely more fun B-flick.
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