Stranger Things: Came for the Music, Stayed for the Weirdness

So, as the title suggests, I initially started watching Netflix’s Stranger Things because I happened upon a posting in one of the Facebook groups I belong to, Synth Wave Emotions! which is dedicated to the increasingly popular trend of synthwave, inspired by the synth-heavy soundtracks of 80’s films. Embedded in the post was the intro screen for the series and the dark, ominous synth lines that have become so notable of the darker tidings of the series. Fortunately, Stranger Things is more than just a platform for the soundtrack, as great as it may be; it draws upon the eeriness of the same cinematic era as its soundtrack, when movies may have been kind of campy but unsettling as well and jump scares were in the minority and used to great effect unlike Hollywood’s more recent offerings, which are more jump and less eerie atmosphere as a whole. I suppose that in the interest of mainstream horror films, my experiences and imagination are better conjurors of spook and fright than what Hollywood is prepared to shove down the throats of audiences as a whole nowadays.

Characters: Without Them, Plot is Meaningless

The characters and the casting are top-notch. I applaud their decision to use relative unknowns for the majority of the main cast to avoid typecasting. The children are actually children, a notable achievement in an industry where children are usually played by late teens or young adults (“I’m only 16!” says the awfully nubile 25 year old), allowing for the actions, emotions and decisions portrayed throughout the plot to not only be believable but also authentic, who who better to have the reaction of a tween than an actual tween?

Setting(s): The Plot Needs to Happen SOMEWHERE, Right?

The town of Hawkins, Indiana, though fictional, is much like any town that you or I have been to/through/around, even if it is on the smaller side. To those who don’t reside there, it may be a place to avoid, stop only to refill one’s gas tank en route to a further on destination or if there’s a restaurant that is a must-visit for one reason

...or I'll squish your ass into a mint tin.
…or I’ll squish your ass into a mint tin.

or another. I personally was reminded most of Kenmare, North Dakota, a frequent pit stop during the five and half years I spent stationed at Minot AFB, ND. While out and about, we’d only stop there long enough to spend exorbitant amounts of money on both junk and questionably healthy foodstuffs or to use the bathroom at the one gas station along the highway, but never to do much else, as there really wasn’t much else for those not from Kenmare to do.

Relatably, Hawkins doesn’t offer much to the out-of-towner, but to those who call it home, it has everything one could want in a town where everyone knows not only everyone else, but also their business and doings, salacious and otherwise uninteresting.

Plot: All of the Glitz and Glamour is for Naught if the Story Sucks

While relatively straightforward in its approach, the story is a variably-paced one that wastes little time getting to the point. This is not to say that it is devoid of the meatier aspects of

storytelling. Character development is used wisely, fleshing out the motivations, interests and other features that make the characters likable. Small things that don’t mean much at face value but mean much more in an abstract way, such as El’s love affair with Eggo waffles being associated with feelings of being safe, since it was a staple for her while she was in hiding (what else are most twelve-year-olds able to make?).

While a little cliché in and of itself, the disappearance that starts the whole story is given a rather unique take in the direction the writers chose to not only have the majority of the investigation conducted but also the results of said digging for information. For me, it elicits a strong It vibe, but unlike It, the adults know of things and events but don’t really come into play until the second half of the storyline, with some notable exceptions.

Music: Enhancing the Mood Established by the Scenery, Hopefully

As I was initially drawn to this show because of online postings telling of the synthwave nature of its soundtrack, I cannot say that I was disappointed in the slightest upon hearing the rest that was merely teased at by the intro, which I thought set the initial mood wonderfully. Though not as prominent as the soundtracks for other well-known shows, it is used tastefully throughout the season, setting the mood for each scene in which it is emphasized. Though not as complex as other synth-heavy soundtrack, its simplicity proves to be its greatest strength, adding to the mood and scenery without becoming the focus.

Overall: Should You Spend a Weekend Binge-Watching This? Or is Bingo a Better Waste of Time?

For not expecting much from a mystery surrounding a town that most would just drive through without so much as a thought, Stranger Things is just one more example of the variety of quality content Netflix has been funding in the last five years or so. My only real gripe with it other than the number of episodes being far too small for the world that was presented is the lack of exploration into the deeper meanings and possibilities that have been shown thus far. Fortunately, a second season has already been announced, so we’ll most likely see if this season was just a flash in a pan or if the follow-up can achieve at least the same level of critical acclaim, if not greater.

Note: As it has been a time since I last watched this, I’ll be rewatching it soon to see if it withstands rewatching. Most likely, it’ll be a new post, so in the meantime, watch the trailer for Season two a thousand times, pick it apart and write fanfiction of questionable quality. Or, just hold on to your waffles and loop the soundtrack for the next year while we wait to see what else is waiting for us in Hawkins, Indiana.

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