Illustration by Hilton Dresden
When we learned Winona Ryder would be returning to acting with a starring role in a sci-fi horror Netflix fable, we naturally could only hope to see her rock a choppy mullet-esque haircut, sit sullenly on a couch with an axe, and cry into a telephone between puffs on her cigarette. But the queen of the 90’s delivers on all these, and more, in Strangers Things, all while emoting raw, authentic sorrow, anger, and fear.
Stranger Things is the product of filmmaking pair The Duffer Brothers, twin sci-fi writers who’ve previously worked on shows like Wayward Pines. The world they’ve created for Netflix is one of 80’s nostalgia – the show is highly reminiscent of Spielberg’s The Goonies (1985) and Poltergeist (1982), and it’s title sequence and posters are a Stephen King novel-enthusiast’s wet dream. And while the visual effects of the multidimensional world where Stranger Things takes place are equally stunning and horrifying, it’s the emotional core of this story – a mother (Ryder) looking for her missing son – that keeps the show grounded and riveting from beginning to terrifying end.
We open on superimposed text reading “November 6th, 1983, Hawkins, Indiana,” and are immediately whisked away to a world of chunky sweaters, cool fall breezes, and faceless monsters who snatch children away in the night. It’s the Goonies sequel we forgot to ask for but desperately needed, and this time the technology allows us to get way creepier than a pirate skeleton. Following a group of tween boys as they seek out their missing friend, Stranger Things is a charming, intriguing piece of television that adults and children alike can enjoy – as long as the kids have some grit.
“I don’t have kids, so my mom helped me a lot on this,” Ryder recently told the New York Times. “I’d call her sometimes and say: ‘Mom, what would you do if every indication is that your child is dead, but you believe that lights are telling you that he isn’t?’ And she’d say: ‘Honey, I’d totally believe that. It’s primal.”
On casting the legend, The Duffer Brothers explained to Vulture, “To have someone like Winona, who has that movie-star presence where you just point a camera at her and she pops off the screen, it’s not something most people have. So we were excited by the idea of her doing this. And I don’t think even two years ago she would have agreed to it.”
Ryder is joined by a terrific ensemble cast of child actors who give Stand By Me-quality performances. The show is a breath of fresh, gloomy 80’s air in an era of television oversaturated with “irreverent” comedies and superhero spinoffs. If you’re looking to escape to a simpler time, a time of football games, and family dinners, and spectral monsters lurking in the shroud of nearby trees, then stop what you’re doing and go binge Stranger Things. The only way you’ll regret it is if you’re terrified of being sucked into another dimension where slugs and vines creep inside your body and clutch you in a perpetual trance-like state until Winona Ryder finds you and rescues you.
Watch the trailer below.