Stranger Things: Gamechanger for Netflix
It’s been almost a decade since the American streaming platform Netflix started publishing original content, and in that time it has managed to make itself a recognizable brand, changing the way we view television. However, few Netflix series have managed to become the pillar of pop culture.
For the sake of comparison, in the period from 1997–2011, HBO aired classics of modern television like The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, and most notably, Game of Thrones. All of those shows were a staple of the zeitgeist and will be remembered for revolutionizing television. Netflix has never had a show that operated at that level and scale.
Stranger Things, whose fourth season was released May 27, is changing all that by becoming the most recognizable Netflix series ever. A combination of science fiction and horror, Stranger Things relies heavily on the aesthetic of the 1980s, and series authors Matt and Ross Duffer managed to incorporate that decade into every pore of the series. In an age when nostalgia sells very well, focusing on a very recognizable decade was a wise decision.
Awesome '80s Aesthetics
What makes Stranger Things familiar is the way it incorporates the aesthetics and flavor of the 1980s. Between costume design, scenery, and a killer soundtrack, the series has a consistency and familiarity that attracts millions of viewers. But, what makes this season distinctive is its attempt to "grow up," mainly through a bold script, which turns its focus to horror nuances, and that is a complete hit.
Visually, this season is on a another level; the enormous budget is evident in every frame. The cinematography is stunning, exquisite, and believable. The camera work is fascinating, and the highest praise must go to the editing. From the beginning, Stranger Things incorporated a lot of interesting editing techniques, all of which make the viewer feel terrified and tense. Special effects, sound effects, lighting, and editing all create a more dynamic and interesting atmosphere.
Embracing the Slasher Influence
The fourth season brings much more blood, graphic and disturbing deaths, and feels no obligation to the viewer to tone down the gruesome scenes.
The new bad guy in town, Vecna, is an explicit allusion to Freddy Krueger. He personifies an invisible, but inevitable threat that mercilessly kills the most troubled teenagers of a small town. Besides the strong influence of Nightmare on Elm Street, there are plenty of references to slashers (and proto-slashers) like Carrie, Halloween, Last House on the Left, and Jaws.
Previous seasons were strongly influenced by early '80s horror movies like Poltergeist. The shift to slashers is refreshing and offers new opportunities for the series to scare its viewers. Vecna is an incredibly realistic, disgusting figure who creates discomfort in every frame.
Plotlines: The Good, The Meh & The Boring
Over the course its four seasons, Stranger Things has evolved from a simplistic tale of five friends fighting a scary monster to an epic drama with a large scope and multiple plot lines converging at the end. Some of those plotlines are great, some not so much.
1. Good Old Hawkins
The first and the main subplot concerning the Hawkins murderers was a love letter to old-school Stranger Things. The series has always been at its best when it comes to simplistic mystery plots. Investigating the murderers and gradually unrevealing the mystery behind them was fascinating.
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What gives this subplot an extra push are the flashbacks that initially seem to present all the relevant information to you, only to pull the rug under your feet and turn everything "upside down." Hawkins was fun, engaging with many twists and turns.
2. California, Here We Come
The California subplot is just kind of there, nothing relevant seems to happen until the last episode. Eleven gets pulled away early on and all that remains is the "road trip“ scenario. The pacing is a bit off, but the character interactions are fun as hell, so it gets a passing grade. The real problem lies behind the Iron Curtain.
3. From Russia with Boredom
Boring filler that is filled with clichés from the first to the last second. There's the gulag from which there is no escape, there's the corrupt guard who turns out to be a human being lending a hand to our hero in his most difficult moments, and then the out of nowhere resolution because it was time for the subplots to converge.
Of the three narrative lines, Russia is by far the most uninteresting and stifles the entire flow of the season. The stakes are too low because it's evident that Hooper will survive, so the audience isn't completely invested. All in all, it is painfully dull and that is the worst thing a show can do.
Characters Grow and Evolve
What makes storytelling great are empathetic, evolving characters. Not monsters, not the supernatural, and not precocious children chasing down a mystery. It's characters like Joyce Byers, Eleven, and Mike Wheeler, growing and changing as the story evolves. They create and escalate problems. They become stronger, more dynamic, and more fallible. They fail and succeed and push along the plot. These characters prove that you don’t need a crazy plot twist to surprise your audience. You just need characters who evolve beyond tropes.
Stranger Things' greatest strength has always been its vast array of fun and rich characters. Season 4 raises that bar even higher. Each season so far has added fresh blood to the group by creating new and interesting characters, while simultaneously placing old characters in new and unexpected dynamics. The addition of Eddie (and Max and Robin) is a blatant display of ingenuity in creating characters who keep the series fresh and interesting.
From Intimate Series to Cinematic Universe
All in all, the main gimmick of Season 4 lies is that the Duffer brothers have created their "Game of Thrones season," in terms of cinematic expansiveness. Of course, this is certainly the series' most sprawling narrative yet, with roughly three to four groups of main characters split into separate plot lines spread across at least three different locations (good old Hawkins, Wild West California, and a very hostile Cold War Russia). This amount of ambition must be respected.
Back in 2016, Stranger Things was refreshing because it was almost old fashioned. It completely rejected modern trends imposed by Game of Thrones and the Marvelization of pop culture. The series became a huge hit because of the unique intimacy of Hawkins' self-contained world and an everyday group of childhood friends in a small town. These kids were totally relatable in somehow overcoming a mysterious interdimensional threat through the childlike logic found in a fantasy board game. It was just a group of friends and one mystery.
But, times change and so must we, and that's okay. The Duffer brothers never forgot that, even when they transformed their intimate, stylish nostalgia trip into a massive, expanded universe. Their puzzle box approach to storytelling—partly fueled by Reddit fan theories—stayed true to themselves, and in the end, that is all that matters.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ante Delija