Cozy Horror – Stranger Things

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Image cred­it: Netflix

The title font, rem­i­nis­cent of 1980s hor­ror-thriller nov­els, buzzes over the flat screen TV or lap­top mon­i­tor to the eeri­ly pul­sat­ing beat of elec­tron­ic music. We could pause and quick­ly answer a What­sApp mes­sage before the episode starts. After all, this is 2018, and we’re stream­ing via Net­flix. But wait, is it real­ly 2018? I’m not so sure any­more. Put your smart­phone away, it might as well be…

1983 in a nor­mal Amer­i­can small town called Hawkins. On the way home from a nice­ly nerdy night of play­ing Dun­geons and Drag­ons in a cozy base­ment with his three best friends, twelve-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) encoun­ters a strange thing and dis­ap­pears with­out a trace. Will’s wor­ried sin­gle moth­er Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) turns to local Police Chief Jim Hop­per (David Har­bour) – a guy whose morn­ing groom­ing rit­u­al includes beer and cig­a­rettes and who at first doesn’t take the case seri­ous­ly. But Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gat­en Mataraz­zo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaugh­lin) take mat­ters like these seri­ous­ly and into their own young hands. While search­ing for their miss­ing friend, they encounter Eleven (Mil­lie Bob­by Brown), a mys­te­ri­ous girl with a shaved head and the num­ber 11 tat­tooed on her arm. The trio will soon find out that these fea­tures are not the strangest things about the girl. This Amer­i­can small town with a secre­tive research lab near­by may not be so nor­mal after all, and even a reluc­tant Chief Hop­per comes to real­izes that stranger things of a para­nor­mal nature are afoot in Hawkins. 

The show will spell­bind you just like the glow­ing bold let­ters of the title at the begin­ning of each episode do. And just like the blood­cur­dling oth­er­world­ly being… No. Wait, reveal­ing any fur­ther details would be too much of a spoiler.

One thing I can reveal is that Stranger Things (2016 – present) has got ‘it.’ And I don’t mean the creepy clown from the Stephen King nov­el. It’s got a sus­pense­ful plot with inter­est­ing and well-woven sub­plots, like­able char­ac­ters, and mag­nif­i­cent actors. Most notably the youngest mem­bers of the cast – Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gat­en Mataraz­zo, Caleb McLaugh­lin, and Mil­lie Bob­by Brown – suc­ceed in por­tray­ing like­able and relat­able char­ac­ters. Absolute­ly heart-warm­ing, but not kitschy. So fun­ny, so often, but in nat­ur­al and not cheap ways that don’t pre­vent us from tak­ing them seri­ous­ly. This is espe­cial­ly the case with Mil­lie Bob­by Brown’s mys­tery char­ac­ter, Eleven. The young British actress’s mul­ti­fac­eted per­for­mance is strong, intense, eerie, and trag­ic as her char­ac­ter devel­ops, yet nev­er over the top. Also, the show’s cre­ators, the Duf­fer Broth­ers, have writ­ten dia­logue for kids that actu­al­ly sounds like kids speaking.

Now, one fre­quent point of crit­i­cism is that many Stranger Things char­ac­ters are too clichéd and not as well round­ed as they could be. Grant­ed, we have Will’s broth­er Jonathan Byers (Char­lie Heaton), the out­cast high school lon­er type who likes pho­tog­ra­phy; Mike’s sis­ter Nan­cy Wheel­er (Natalia Dyer), the inse­cure wannabe cool girl princess type; and her oh-so-cool jock and par­ty boyfriend, Steve Har­ring­ton (Joe Keery). How­ev­er, I believe this crit­i­cism falls short. First­ly, because it fails to rec­og­nize that the ini­tial set­up of those rather clichéd char­ac­ters doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly stem from bad writ­ing but is more of a con­scious act intend­ed to mim­ic the style and feel­ing of hor­ror movies from the show’s era. And sec­ond­ly, because the char­ac­ters do, in fact, evolve over the course of the two seasons.

But there’s more to Stranger Things. Much more. And it’s hard to put into words because it’s an atmos­phere, a feel­ing. It’s deeply tied to the decade the show is set in, that’s for sure. Read­ing the title of this review, you might ask your­self how ‘cozy’ and ‘hor­ror’ go togeth­er, but that’s exact­ly what it is: ‘cozy hor­ror.’ There is just some­thing about the fash­ion, the back­ground music, the tech­nol­o­gy, the cul­tur­al allu­sions, and the every­thing of the show that is strange­ly com­fort­ing and con­ducive to the bone-chill­ing sus­pense and horror.

Net­flix has recent­ly announced that the 1980s will return in ear­ly 2019. For mil­lions of fans, that’s a long wait for the third sea­son. For any­one who hasn’t seen the show though, it’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch up. But trust me, it’ll take far less than a year to watch two sea­sons of Stranger Things.

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