TThe press release accompanying volume four of Stranger Things makes a reckless boast: “Over five hours longer than any previous season!” The show is among Netflix’s biggest hits, but it returns at a time when the streaming platform’s business model — hooking subscribers by throwing cash at bloated mega-shows, while postponing profit making for as long as possible) is starting to crackle. It feels pretty provocative to announce that a sci-fi caper that was already in danger of stalling in its second and third seasons has been “supersized”; in other words, even large sums of money have disappeared into it.
However, the gamble is worth it. If big budgets are going to be allowed, one wants to see them clearly on screen, and that’s immediately the case when we return to Hawkins, the small Indiana town perched on a portal to a monster-infested underworld, in 1986. Simple scenes like kids hitting high school or hitting the nightclub have a new reach, with dozens of impeccably retro-shod extras and the right vintage cars or Formica accessories. A great labor of love for one lucky set designer, beautiful mall store fronts deserve their own Instagram account. There are more characters and more locations (Nevada, California, Alaska, Russia) as the set splits and scatters, giving ST4 enough threads to sustain episodes that routinely veer over an hour each. Everything is unapologetically bigger.
More importantly, Stranger Things now serves an oversized dramatic purpose, assuming that the 12-year-old viewers who were enthralled by Season 1 are now 18 and ready for some darker meat. What was once a creepy but quintessentially cute thriller, in honor of Steven Spielberg, has taken on full-blown horror elements inspired by The Exorcist Y a nightmare on elm street. Limbs break off. The eyes are gouged out. Unlike the old monsters that spent most of the season unseen, rattling windows and making lights flicker, this year’s impressively realized demon: a hideous humanoid without a nose, with claws for hands and a house in the kingdom of darkness that could really benefit from a significant modernization. – is in full horrible effect from the get-go.
The age of majority Strange things it doesn’t stop at the ghastly special effects, either. The opening minutes include a reflection on how Hawkins is a community damaged by tragedy, specifically a reference to the season three finale, when several people were killed in an explosive three-way battle between rogue Russian agents, a creature called the “Mind Flayer.” . ” and a gang of resourceful children. But in a show returning after a pandemic-induced delay, the contemporary resonance is unmistakable.
Surprisingly, the show continues this idea, combining the harrowing imagery of the narrative with a psychological depth that was previously absent. The supernatural being preys on the children’s worst memories, turning the main story into one about trauma-torn childhoods. It can even be read as an allegory for teen suicide: episode four, the highlight of the seven new episodes and perhaps the series’ best individual installment, makes harrowing use of a montage of funny moments from previous episodes, illustrating what would be lost if any of these silly children were overcome by their demons.
So what about the children themselves? Where they once cared about who liked whom, they are now experiencing dating issues like fear of commitment and the awkwardness of long-distance relationships. If sometimes these more adult themes are too much for the cast, the show’s new structure, which happily jumps between four or five side stories, beats the oddly rough spots.
There are a few casualties from the sprawling narrative: Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is marooned in a Russian prison in a dead subplot that sucks in scatly mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and angry nerd Murray (Brett Gelman). in its black hole of cutable material. Season 3’s breakout star Priah Ferguson as little sister Erica barely makes an appearance, and the best new character: Joseph Quinn as long-haired Dungeons & Dragons fan Eddie Munson, a rock god who’s minus Hawkins, Indiana and more Justin. Hawkins from the Darkness – Glows brightly for one episode before being chewed into the gears of the plot.
But with weirdo Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) who wields a CB radio and keeps hacking computers, flipping through cassette tapes and forming one half of the best odd couple comedy duo on TV with Joe Keery as the fallen high school idol Steve, a lot of the old magic lingers on Stranger Things is bigger, older, a little sadder, and just as lovable as ever.