Take a big chunk of Stand By Me, stitch on a sizeable amount of The X-Files mystery, throw on an E.T. hoody, then bring to life with a lightning bolt of teen vigour, and you have the new Netflix Original monster hit Stranger Things.
An ode to all things ‘80s – style, music, haircuts, fashion, family values and even food – this new sci-fi drama chronicles the series of mysterious events that beset a small town’s inhabitants following the disappearance of a young boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp).
Over the course of the show, each episode unlocks a new part of the growing mystery, with twists and turns propelling the viewer from the comfort of their seat into a realm beyond.
While it may appear at first as a charming paint-by-numbers imitation of the many great sci-fi-mystery dramas before it – E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind et al – Stranger Things is actually a modern reimagining of the genre set to an ‘80s synth soundtrack that would make Daft Punk proud.
A creepy conspiracy theory
Spoiler alert: conspiracy fans will thrill at the incorporation of the secret US defense program Project MKUltra – the CIA’s attempt at mind control, circa ‘50s/60s.
You’ll just have to watch the series to find out how the horrific LCD testing program is used.
A cast of intrigue
While the idea of a teenage cast may turn some viewers away, the roles played by these young adults are both well developed and purposeful. Add an ensemble of accomplished adult actors, and the balance is played out superbly.
Yes, there are walking clichés to be found – like the malevolent Men in Black who appear to ‘fix’ problems – but, hell, even a masterpiece like Jaws is still as predictable as a Kardashian Instagram post.
A Winona comeback
Top of the roll call is accomplished actress and ‘90s wild child, Winona Ryder; who’s great to see back on our screens.
The actress channels her best Richard Dreyfuss, a la Roy Neary from Close Encounters, as her character, single mother Joyce Byers, finds her grip on reality falter after a series of unexplained events at home suggest her son, Will, is not merely missing.
Enter series anti-hero and Joyce’s ex-boyfriend, Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who goes from disbeliever to total convert and engages in all manner of illegal activities to get to the truth, whipping the bad guys into a muted frenzy in the process.
A host of rising stars
But the real stars here are the young performers, ranging from early to late teens, who fill all manner of pivotal roles.
Keep an eye on Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, and Charlie Heaton, who plays Will’s older brother, Jonathan. Both are standout talent and destined for greatness.
What starts out as a run-of-the-mill period sci-fi drama becomes an examination of friendship, duty, rite of passage and sacrifice, concluding with a heartfelt finale that ties up most storylines, but also leaves just the right amount of loose ends.
C’mon, you don’t want a perfect ending, do you?