I’m gonna go ahead and give the SPOILER WARNING now. You have officially been warned.
Stranger Things never really seemed like something I would be into. I don’t like horror, I’m not a big fan of the 80s, and I don’t really like creature features. So why did I love season one?
Well, let’s talk about why I don’t like horror first. I’ve never liked horror movies because they’ve always felt lacking to me. Lacking in plot, lacking in three-dimensional characters and character development, and overall just uninteresting gore-fests that rely on super dark shots and jump scares to make you scared.
Of course, there are exceptions, but I feel confident in saying that most horror is just, “you’re here to see people get chainsawed to death and not think too much”. They’re not complex, they’re just designed to make your heart race. And it works, I’m not saying it doesn’t, but it’s just largely boring.
Stranger Things has the advantage of being a show, rather than a movie, so it has much longer to establish and develop things like characters than a 90 minute movie does. In horror movies, you never care about the person that gets hacked to death by a guy in a mask because you were never given time to care about them. They’re just a character whose name you might not even remember by the end of the film. Stranger Things avoids this, not just because they have eight episodes to fully introduce the characters, but by making memorable characters that feel really real.
Characters in horror films are just people that the plot happens to. Stranger Things has characters that make the plot happen. This is one of the key differences, but it is certainly not the only one.
While Stranger Things has its fair share of jump scares, it’s not the only source of its horror. It doesn’t rely so heavily upon them, and uses other forms of horror to instill unsettled feelings in you. My personal favorite example of this is one of the many Christmas lights scenes between Joyce and Will, when she gets the idea to paint letters on the wall so he can more easily talk with her. When he lights up “R”, then “U”, and Joyce’s eyes go to “N” even before the camera zooms in on the now-lit red light above “N”, now that is terrifying.
Going back to the characters, I was originally going to say that Stranger Things made their characters likeable, but I ended up using memorable instead, because frankly, not all the characters are likeable. Some are unlikeable on purpose, like the bullies, or Papa, but some are just unlikeable because people are flawed creatures and aren’t likeable 100% of the time. Like Steve. Sure he has his moments where he can be endearing or not a total dick, but largely he’s a jerk and unlikeable (and yes, I know from the memes that he becomes better, but just for the time being is kind of an ass).
What’s interesting to me about Stranger Things is that they make their kid characters actually act their age. They’re immature, and rash, and have a hard time controlling and expressing their emotions. They mess up, make bad calls, and don’t always know what to do. They’re not heroes, they’re just kids doing the best they can in wild situations. I really like that they let kids be kids in this show.
As for the adult characters, my favorite character is probably Joyce. She is so strong, and persistent, and full of rage. She persevered more than anyone, and even in the face of everyone telling her she’s insane, she kept believing. She didn’t give in, never rolled over and called it quits. She didn’t care what others thought, she knew she was right, and would never lose hope, no matter the cost.
I also love how loveable they make Hopper. Drunk sheriffs in a rural town are not usually my type of character, but I make an exception for a guy who was a good dad, who drowns his grief from losing his child, who is willing to look too far for his own good into a local missing kid’s case, and who protects others.
Good, realistic characters whose purposes aren’t just to get their guts spilled. It makes all the difference.
As for the plot, I find the idea of the Upside Down very interesting, and am excited to (presumably) learn more about it in the following seasons. I’ve always been a fan of alternate dimension concepts, and seeing one so spooky is nightmare fuel. I also find the “gates” interesting in terms of appearance. I dislike how fleshy they look. It’s certainly disturbing, especially when Will is inside the wall.
All in all, Stranger Things has been great so far, I really enjoyed every episode and didn’t feel like it was slow or dragging at any point. The pacing is basically perfect. This week, I’m watching the second season, so stay tuned for a review of that! And have a great day!
(Also please don’t spoil anything for me in the comments.)