Stranger Things 4 review – bigger, better and horrifying than ever | Television

Jhe press release accompanying volume four of Stranger Things recklessly boasts, “Over five hours longer than any previous season!” The show is among Netflix’s biggest hits, but it comes back at a time when the streaming platform’s business model – hooking subscribers by throwing money at bloated mega-shows, while postponing any profit too as long as possible – starts to crack. It seems rather provocative to trumpet that a sci-fi hug that was already in danger of treading water in its second and third seasons was “oversized” – in other words, even bigger sums of money went missing in it. .

However, the bet is successful. If big budgets are to be awarded, one wants to see them clearly on screen, and that’s immediately the case when we return to Hawkins, the small Indiana town perched on a portal to a monster-infested underworld, in 1986. Simple scenes like kids arriving at high school or visiting a roller coaster disco get new scope, with dozens of impeccably retro extras and just the right vintage cars or Formica props. The mall’s beautiful storefronts, a giant labor of love for one lucky set designer, deserve their own Instagram account. There are more characters and more locations (Nevada, California, Alaska, Russia) as the set is split and scattered, giving ST4 enough strands to sustain episodes that regularly stray beyond a hour each. Everything is unquestionably bigger.

More importantly, Stranger Things now has an oversized dramatic focus, assuming the 12-year-old viewers who were wowed in Season 1 are now 18 and ready for some darker meat. What was once a scary but essentially cute Steven Spielberg homage thriller has taken on full-fledged horror elements inspired by The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Members snap. The eyes are gouged out. Unlike old monsters who would spend most of the season unseen, slamming windows and flickering lights, the demon performed impressively this year – a hideous humanoid with no nose, claws for hands and a house in the dark realm that could really benefit from a major modernization – is indeed horrible from the get-go.

Sidelined… Winona Ryder and Brett Gelman in Stranger Things. Picture: Netflix

The maturity of Stranger Things doesn’t stop at the gruesome special effects, either. The opening minutes include a reflection on how Hawkins is a community damaged by tragedy – particularly a reference to the end of the third season, when several people died in an explosive three-way battle between rogue Russian agents, a creature called “Mind Flayer” and a bunch of resourceful kids. But in a show that returns after a pandemic-induced delay, the contemporary resonance is unmistakable.

Surprisingly, the show follows through on this idea, pairing the distressing visuals of the narrative with a psychological depth that was previously absent. The supernatural being feeds on the children’s worst memories, turning the main story into a trauma-torn childhood. It can even be read as an allegory for teenage suicide: episode four, the most remarkable of the seven new ones and perhaps the series’ best single episode, makes heartbreaking use of a montage of funny moments from past episodes. , illustrating what would be lost if any of these goofy kids were defeated by their demons.

So what about the children themselves? Where they once worried about who loved whom, they now encounter dating issues such as fear of commitment and embarrassment of long-distance relationships. If on occasion these more adult themes are too much for the cast to handle, the show’s new structure, happily jumping between four or five side stories, overcomes the tough times.

Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson, making rocking devil horns, in Stranger Things 4.
God of rock… Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson in Stranger Things 4. Photography: Courtesy of Netflix

There are a few victims of the sprawling narrative: Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is stuck in a Russian prison in a dead subplot that sucks in scatty mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and angry nerd Murray (Brett Gelman ) in its Material cuttable black hole. Season 3 star Priah Ferguson as little sister Erica is barely in it, and best new character – Joseph Quinn as Dungeons & Dragons long-haired monster Eddie Munson, a rock god who’s less Hawkins, Indiana and more Justin Hawkins from the Darkness – shines brightly for one episode before being chewed up in the cogs of the plot.

But with eccentric Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wielding the CB radio, still hacking into computers, flipping through tapes, and forming half of TV’s best odd couple comedy duo with Joe Keery as fallen high school idol Steve, a lot of the old magic still lingers. Stranger Things is bigger, older, a little sadder – and still just as adorable.

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