★★★★Netflix's latest original series, Stranger Things, is an enthralling paradox of keen originality and unmistakable nostalgia.
Created and directed by the Duffer brothers, the series combines a familiar blend of sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements to produce a tightly packed story of mystery and suspense, which heralds the power of uniquely human connections like family and friendship.
To give a brief synopsis, the series is set in 1983 in the small fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The eight episode arc follows the desperate events that a suburban community face after a young boy goes missing. As his family and friends desperately search for him, 'stranger things' about the town soon come to light.
Stranger Things draws upon a number of instantly recognisable tropes and references from several films and shows of the 80s and 90s.
From the Spielberg-ian depiction of it's child stars (ála E.T and The Goonies) to the Lynch-ian, Stephen King-like qualities of it's more suspenseful moments, there is a lot to gleam from this show if you're a fan of that cult classic era. However, despite it's numerous sources of inspiration, the show still remains to feel fresh and original, as well as utterly engaging.
As one of the acting stalwarts of the 80s and 90s, Winona Ryder fits into the series' nostalgic vibes with ease; giving a poignant and powerful performance as the show's main maternal figure.
David Harbour's stone-faced police chief, Hopper, also proves to be an interesting protagonist, harbouring a more complex set of emotions than meets the eye.
However, it is the child stars of Stranger Things that really steal the show. Often, the majority of child stars struggle to maintain an on-screen presence that is anything other than annoying or unbearably precocious. But here, the central group of children offer truly superb, organic performances. Their chemistry together is infectious and, most importantly, realistic. Despite the series' fantasy and sci-fi themes, the show is ultimately grounded by these four children, whose affection and loyalty to each other is tested and proven throughout the eight episode arc. Millie Bobby Brown's portrayal of 'El' - a mysterious, conflicted girl who harbours a dark and dangerous secret - is especially poignant and affecting.
The story itself proves to be as suspenseful as it is entertaining, with the series ending with the same air of uneasy ambiguity as it opens. The themes which are explored in the series are also interesting, as fractured families are forced to come together and adolescent tensions begin to rise among the younger residents of Hawkins.
The cinematography is also admirable, with many integral scenes capturing a Lynch-ian or Spielberg-ian aesthetic, with great attention to compositional detail. The only slight pitfall of the series is in its use of CGi. Though adequate and believable within the context of the story, the CGI elements are not quite as seamless or immersive as they could be.
Overall, Stranger Things is one of the real binge-watching gems of 2016.
Consistently engaging (without ever getting so serious that it can't provide a few laughs along the way) and providing some really promising performances from its younger talent, this series is quite possibly one of Netflix's best finds so far.
Stranger Things is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.