Hawkins, Indiana, 1980. A group of boys go home after a 10 hour Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It’s nighttime, the woods loom, but the boys see no danger and neither do their parents. They hop on their bikes and pedal-small town kids with no worries, except maybe the loss of a prized comic book after a downhill bike race. Will, the smallest of this four member group (or perhaps his gentle nature makes him appear that way), branches off into a side path in the woods. We know danger is eminent, it’s in the show trailer after all, but we can’t stop ourselves from huffing in irritation – don’t go down that road alone kid!
The danger comes as we expect from this familiar genre, but it’s as uncanny as the ‘80’s inspired synth theme music by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon that thrums with the title card. We’re left pondering: what just happened and where is Will?
Questions pervade. Many of them will not be explained, not fully, and they shouldn’t, because at its heart Stranger Things is not just a supernatural/science fiction genre. It’s a mystery that ponders character resilience. How do we respond when danger comes unexpectedly and without explanation? Single mother Joyce Byers, Will’s mother, works full time and sometimes extra shifts, leaving her boys at home alone, believing they’re safe in a town where everyone knows each other. Chief Jim Hopper, a soon to be participant of this wild ride, comes from the big city to a small town (Chief from Jaws, anyone?), to escape his own tragedy. In Hawkins, Hoppers can coast through living without recognizing his own emotions or risking tragedy. He tells Joyce Byers that this is Hawkins, nothing bad happens here.
I would argue that this is the catching moment of Stranger Things, where our theme is revealed: something bad can happen anywhere, even if we don’t understand it, even if, like young Will, we’re alone in a shed with our back to the wall and a shotgun pointed at the door. That should be safe enough, but it isn’t, because something bad can happen anywhere, and it might happen without explanation. That’s what makes Stranger Things effectively terrifying, because this basic tenement we know to be true, in not just a John Carpenter-esque flick, but in real life as well.
Check out the Stranger Things trailer below, and watch the 8 episode series on Netflix.