Stranger Things (2016) Review

I have done my best to give you an idea of what this is about without giving away the plot and the ending, as Stranger Things is best enjoyed spoiler free.

I just want to get this out of the way. Netflix is bringing about a new golden age of television on the internet. As it doesn’t rely on selling advertising space in order to make money, Netflix allows its shows more freedom to express themselves and they can afford to take more chances of smaller projects that might have been missed by short sighted executives who need to make a quota.

One of these projects was Stranger Things. It has become somewhat of a hit amongst Netflix subscribers. With it’s powerful and evocative story line, characters and 80s charm.

dungeonsThe story begins with a group of four boys playing Dungeons and Dragons when it’s home-time for the friends of twelve year old Mike who have come round to play. When he arrives home and there is no one around one of the group, Will appears to be attacked and consequently goes missing. The day afterwards a mysterious girl with a shaven head and telekinetic powers appears, kick starting a slow descent into the mysterious goings on surrounding the town of Hawkins, Indiana.

bikeWith it’s depiction of a great adventure on bikes, the resourcefulness of youth and having to hide a mysterious new friend from both The Authorities and parents, you can see how Stranger Things is clearly heavily influenced by those great 80s adventure films like The Goonies and E.T. All this comes together to give the whole thing an amazing charm and a sense of nostalgia for that period. It takes the adventure genre and manages to mix in a massive dollop of Stephen King mystery and thrill riding. The set pieces, the clothes, the movie posters, the music. Even the camera and direction style are all period accurate, and they all come together to create one of the best 80s series not made in the 80s.

winonaI must doff my hat to all the actors involved. Winona Ryder makes a triumphant return to form as Joyce, the beleaguered mother of missing child, Will. Her apparent descent into madness after the disappearance of her son was done well, and though to the outside world it may appear that she is simply going mad with grief, we as the audience are given snippets throughout to give her a method to her madness. The young children all give great performances, Finn Wolfhard as Mike and Millie Bobby Brown (who really shaved her head for the role) as Eleven, or ‘El’ for short are especially great managing to keep a sense of innocence despite some of the horrors they have witnessed. David Harbour as the police Chief Jim Hopper also deserves a mention for his performance as a man battling his own demons as he helps to search for Will and unravel the mystery surrounding his disappearance. It is important to note that they have used age appropriate actors of the roles of the pre-teen and teenager characters which is always nice to see. There’s something quite jarring about seeing people who are almost hitting thirty playing an 18 year old.  

Each episode is a chapter of a story, and though it never leaves you in the middle of the action, like Lost it does, it does have a cliffhanger at the end so you’re always begging for more. I watched it over two days, and I really regret starting it when I didn’t have a spare eight hours to watch it all at once. It manages to drip feed you the information perfectly throughout giving you answers or part answers to questions you’ve been gathering in your mind from the start. It always manages to give you just the right amount to get just enough to satisfy your hunger for more but never too much that you feel like you know what’s going to happen before it does. I would say that around episode seven (there are eight all together) there are one or two moments I felt it was running out of steam a little, but then it pulled it right back for the finale, which was 55 minutes of suspense and excellent payoff.

the gangAll the way through there is a sense of foreboding and terror that gives it an edge that makes it hard to tear yourself away from the screen, though it always makes sure to take a break from the tense energy every now then to show kids just being kids and having fun. Which can be a nerve settling release when you’ve just spent the last twenty minutes on the edge of your seat shouting at the screen for the characters to be safe. Which is probably my biggest criticism, it was so tense and nerve wracking at times I found myself getting a little exhausted.

All of this terror giving way to relative calm is beautifully tied together by the music, which is quite possibly my favourite thing about Stranger Things. The synth wave based soundtrack has been lovingly constructed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. It serves to really draw you in, and perfectly balancing the soft, gentle moments and the more intense scenes perfectly, it really gets under your skin and is another mark of how Stranger Things is able to effortlessly evoke that 80s feeling.

stranger things together

80s movies.  Stephen King. Really good kids adventure movies. Really good mystery thriller films. Great acting. Well played out story. Great Directing. Great Writing. Amazing Soundtrack. If you love at least one of these things then you will enjoy Stranger Things and I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it at the first available opportunity.

★★★★★

 

Turbo Kid

You could be forgiven for not having heard of Turbo Kid. It premièred at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and received a modest release later on in August.

I must admit that I had never heard of Turbo Kid before stumbling across it whilst browsing Netflix for something to watch with a bucket o’ popcorn and a cuddle with the guinea pigs on the sofa.

Although I like to know what I’m getting in for most of the time, occasionally I love just watching something and knowing nothing about what I’m getting myself into. It’s a gamble, you may well end up seeing your new favourite film, or something that will change your outlook on life. Or it can make you rue the day you ever saw the words nine and months. 

Turbo Kid, I am pleased to announce was a very pleasant success.

Set in an alternative, post apocalyptic 1997. The story revolves around one teenager and his bike (he’s only ever referred to as The Kid) trying to salvage as much scrap from The Wasteland that his now his home as possible so he can make the trip to the town and trade it all for a bottle of (very murky) water.

swings

When taking a moment out of his subsistence to revel in being a kid by sitting on a swing and reading a comic he encounters a young lady called Apple, a slightly simple, well meaning and kinda sweet girl, who befriends The Kid immediately. Despite his initial resistance to company, her persistence brings about a companionship between the two .

Together they end up embroiled in a plot by the evil Zeus, the one eyed owner and leader of the town, as well as the aforementioned water) to get water from new sources, adventure ensues.

fist

I loved this film, from the beginning it has an amazing sense of nostalgia. From what I’ve learnt of the internet this is something called New Retro. A brand new genre which is innovative and new, but at the same time referencing (predominantly) the 80s and 90s. I think this image pretty much sums things up

Remember all those great kids adventure films from the 80s? Labyrinth, The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, Never Ending Story. All of those were great and you can see their influence in Turbo Kid. You can also tell that other post apocalyptic films like Mad Max have been a massive influence on the design with some of the costumes looking like they stepped straight from Mel Gibson’s side.

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As part of the new wave of new retro movies, there is a great sense of nostalgia for the 80s and 90s, yet it manages to be fresh and new enough to not just feel like a pastiche or a satire. At times it feels like it’s walking a tightrope between loving homage to the action and adventure movies of old and a satire (a la Kung Fury). For me, it was this tightrope that really drew me into the film. Sometimes it felt like it was swerving towards parody and other times you could feel the love for those old movies shining through as the directors  re-create their own story in that style. Sometimes it almost feels like three kids (There are three directors; François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) using a dad’s camcorder in the backyard playing at being film maker makers, though  very good ones with a much bigger budget.

The violence gives it an 18 certificate, and this is well deserved. The violence is bloody, gory and quite graphic at times. There’s blood spurting everywhere, guts get pulled out, limbs get chopped off, and there’s even a guy with a circular saw for a hand.

hand

With all this violence and gore being thrown about with gay abandon it never goes too far with it. They always manage to stop just short of you getting bored of it.

On a side note, I must applaud the directors for going down the route of physical effects rather than CGI, not only does it look great, but it all adds to the nostalgic feeling that really makes this film great. I love real life effects, they make it feel tangible and much more scrungy than if it was CGI.

By the end of the film’s conclusion I found that I had a love for the characters. This was a slow builder with the relationship between the two protagonists building up over the course of the movie, and by the end you just love them.

The last thing I’m going to mention is the soundtrack. Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi were in charge of this, and I have to say they did an amazing job. Like the rest of the film It harks back to a simpler times when synthesizers were just a keyboard a few fancy buttons. Yet they also manage to keep it modern and fresh. I’ll be honest here and say that I would listen to the score on my iPod on the way to work.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this movie. If you love violence, if you love nostalgia, if you love synthy music, if you love a good love story, or just like a good post apocalyptic romp with daft costumes and gore you’ll love this. Go see it on Netflix before it gets taken off. Go. Now!

★★★★★