TV - Stranger Things


Nate McKenzie looks at the strange thing about Stranger Things...

By now you've probably already heard the Stranger Things comparisons: It's E.T. meets Carrie; Stand By Me mixed with The Goonies; a blend of Poltergeist, Firestarter, and Explorers. Stephen King's revered name is usually the first mentioned as a reference point for style and weight and motif. Of course, the word nostalgia bounces around most frequently in conversations about the Netflix summer hit. These are all valid and accurate (although, at this point, unoriginal) observations.

They are also a disservice to what Stranger Things truly is.

Stranger Things is nostalgic but not in the way that the Hollywood Machine sees nostalgia; it is a homage to the 80s, a love letter from the Duffer Bros to the movies that stand as monuments in the annals of cult film.

What Stranger Things does differently is it captures nostalgia without rubbing it in your face like an ether soaked rag until you succumb. The essence of that decade is imparted instead of marketed. Watching Stranger Things offers the rare chance to enjoy a movie that feels not like a movie set in the 80s but like a movie made in the 80s. Devoid of pretence, Stranger Things shuns the sheen of Hollywood bulk nostalgia, going so far as to have cast actual kids from actual neighbourhoods; kids you know from junior high that didn't look like they were going to be famous actors, kids with speech impediments, kids who would never leave towns like Hawkins. Stranger Things is a time machine, the likes of which are exceedingly scarce in modern entertainment. You can find that sort of experience within modern music still, although you have to slog through most of the mainstream stuff to find bands and songs capable of the feat.

But therein lies the difference: the music.

The set design for Stranger Things is fine-tuned, keen to each detail, recreating the households, fashions, and trends of the 1980s. But the original score (by Austin based S U R V I V E) and stringently chosen soundtrack create an ambience that fills in the chambers of the world that the Duffer Bros build with their storytelling. It's sensory deprivation, but in reverse. Sight and sound, and even smell, all play integral roles as the town of Hawkins becomes the town you live in as Jonathan Byers' faint rendition of The Clash haunts your ears, as the smells of Mike Wheeler's basement seem to permeate your nose, as the stark cold of the Upside Down suffocates the heat of your body while watching from the warmth of your couch.

Music has a way of drowning out everything else and allowing your senses to mingle without interruption - much like when Eleven is submerged in the water tank in the dark, the John Carpenter-esque brooding, retro-analogue synths encapsulate you, letting you fall deeper into the horror and the fantasy.

The 2012 remake of Maniac, starring Elijah Wood, is another example of art wonderfully paying homage to its predecessors without bashing in its skull. Skillfully re-imagined, with a familiar 80s influenced score, the newer version of Maniac didn't try to out-slash the original psycho thriller from 1980, it merely updated and stayed true to its source. But in the end, 2012's Maniac is still a remake, a story you've heard your buddy tell before, with some of the details warped from time and age.

You can compare Stranger Things to the heralded horror and cult canon from the past, which we still worship now some-30-years on, but the beauty, the novelty of the show, is its authentic spirit that can not be compared to a previous version of itself, or more importantly, to anything else being produced today.

Image - IMDb