By Emma Challis
A gripping mix of sci-fi and horror, Stranger Things is the TV show you didn't know you needed. The eight-part series has been named one of the best Netflix originals. From the first episode, it's full of twists and turns and a helping of '80s culture that you'll be immersed in whether you're old enough to feel nostalgic about it or not.
When twelve-year-old Will Byers goes missing in the woods his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and three best friends set out to find him, leading them into a surreal world of faceless monsters, communication with an alternate reality via fairy lights and suspicious science experiments. Set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana the vibe is a bit Spielberg-esque as Mike, Dustin and Lucas strike out into the woods on their search alone; with only their pushbikes and walkie-talkies to defend them. The references scattered throughout, from E.T to The Goonies, make the show feel part of the era that directors Matt and Ross Duffer have clearly been influenced by.
That's not to say it's tame. The series has just the right amount of jump scares and tension, the creatures are disturbing and the overall sense of darkness lingers throughout. We see Joyce becoming unhinged and the main characters' older siblings, Nancy and Jonathon, also risk falling victim to the monster which stalks the woods like something straight out of a Stephen King novel. The pacing is well balanced, fast enough to make you want to watch it in one go but slow enough to get you invested in the story. There's much more at stake than just the three boys trying to find their friend.
The older characters add an extra dynamic to the story, although they border on being tropey at times. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is torn between jock, Steve, and loner, Jonathon. Her best friend Barb fills in as the classic 'loser best friend' and I was kind of left feeling more could have been done with her character. Nancy does have some redeeming badass moments when it comes to wielding weapons to tackle the monsters though, and all the characters are likeable enough.
But it's the youngest actors that really make the series come to life, especially Millie Bobby Brown who plays escaped lab-rat, Eleven. Her near-muteness, withering stares and strange powers are equal parts unsettling and exciting. As her relationship with the boys develops her few choice words become even more powerful: "Friends don't lie." The series is clever in its balance between investment in the mystery and developing the bond between the characters– you're quickly drawn into their world. That's how it manages to hook you even if at first glance Stranger Things wouldn't be your normal viewing choice (I confess, I didn't think it would be mine).
Although eight episodes is short for a TV series, there's enough to leave you wanting more. This is good news as a second series has already been announced for next year, so catch the first while you can!