Written and directed by filmmaking twins Matt and Ross Duffer (who bill themselves as the Duffer Brothers), Netflix’s beguiling yet imperfect eight-episode mystery series “Stranger Things” has a style and form that honors early 1980s moviedom – the same time period in which the show is set.
A little like J.J. Abrams’s “Super 8” in 2011, “Stranger Things” borrows here and there from “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Poltergeist,” the early “Halloween” flicks and the less successful adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, among others, including a dash of the 1999 TV cult hit “Freaks and Geeks.” The Duffers certainly nail the look and feel – even the opening credits and synthesizer score evoke the smell of stale popcorn and dirty carpet in the strip-mall twinplex.
But a series can’t subsist only as a nostalgia trip, which is why, a few episodes in, the writing and pacing fail to deliver on the larger idea. It’s still fun to see Winona Ryder so perfectly cast as Joyce Byers, a harried working mom in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, whose son Will (Noah Schnapp) disappears one night while bicycling home from a marathon Dungeons & Dragons game at the home of his friend Mike (Finn Wolfhard).
Joyce implores Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the town’s lazy police chief, to step up the search for Will – but soon enough she starts sensing her son’s presence in the lightbulbs and other electrical appliances in her house. “Where are you?” she asks the thin air. “R-I-G-H-T … H-E-R-E” he spells out in Christmas lights.
Meanwhile, Mike and two other middle school nerds (Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo) set out to find their friend and instead discover “Number 11” (Millie Brown), a frightened girl with a shaved head who has escaped from the nearby top-secret government lab, where the creepy Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) is conducting some kind of alien telekinesis experiment that has unleashed a monster.
Nothing here feels particularly new, except for the compelling way the Duffers have put it all together – and even that can’t fix some plot holes and deliberate obfuscation that make “Stranger Things” a clumsier ride than it needs to be. I guess one could argue that many of our favorite ’80s movies also left something to be desired in execution, which didn’t make them any less fun.
Friday, July 15
(Streaming on Netflix)