‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ meets Russian spy thriller in the hit series’ newest season.
After almost three years without our favorite group of traumatized kids, Stranger Things is back in a big way. The first volume of the fourth season is about to hit Netflix. And, dare I say, it may be the best season of the series thus far. It’s a glorious homage to horror with an epic scope that spans the U.S., continents, and other dimensions. The Duffer Brothers have created a season that is equal parts Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and Russian spy thriller. This season of Stranger Things feels like six different movies happening at once, and surprisingly, it mostly works.
The season opens up six months after the Battle at Starcourt Mall. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Byers family have relocated to a small California town where Eleven tries to fit in. But, unfortunately, she’s only met with hostility from the mean girls. Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, the rest of the group starts high school. They encounter a new world of bullies and Dungeons and Dragons, all while marinating on their trauma. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) have found their people with the Hellfire Club, run by the charismatic yet quirky Eddie (Joseph Quinn). Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) finds tentative friendship on the high school basketball team. Meanwhile, Max (Sadie Sink) is still recovering after the death of her stepbrother, Billy. Everything is different now. And yet, despite it all, they are the same kids deep down.
While the first two episodes of the season are a bit more saccharine in terms of reflecting the experience of starting a new chapter in teenager-dom, there is no lack of horrific imagery. Bones crack, eyes are gouged out, and a new villain, Vecna, is introduced who is one of the most terrifying to date. This is a villain with more human-like intelligence and purposefully preys on the weak.
With Vecna, Stranger Things expands out into the wider population of Hawkins as he infects the town. While we’ve seen the death of innocent teenagers before (RIP Barb), this is a systematic destruction of the town’s youth. Concerns about Satanic panic spread like wildfire and a mob mentality quickly saturates the town in search of the killer. Think Halloween Kills, but more nuanced in its approach. The so-called curse upon Hawkins just keeps getting bigger, and now even more lives are at stake.
The opening eight minutes of the season alone show that the Duffer Brothers aren’t messing around with gore and horrific imagery. Nothing is precious at this point, and bodies are snapped, twisted, and thrown around like ragdolls. I will say, this mostly happens to side characters, not our main crew. As Vecna infiltrates the minds of unsuspecting victims, we’re brought into a dream-like world, even more sinister than the realm of Freddy Krueger. These kids can’t escape their pasts, no matter how hard they try.
As always, the season follows many different storylines between the splintered groups in Hawkins, California, Nevada, and even other countries. Each storyline echoes a distinct genre, from spy thrillers to haunted house movies. The season is overambitious at times and loses itself tonally. Humor is injected at awkward moments, and some storylines stand out more than others, which is inevitable for so many different threads to follow. But for a season of this scope, Stranger Things really does keep the threads intact and deftly weaved together with surprising ease. Certain storylines fall behind others like a braid being purposefully and carefully plaited. Sure, there are a few mistakes, but the final product is something beautiful and truly impressive to behold
Importantly, Stranger Things keeps friendship and love at its core. Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, Eleven, Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) forge stronger friendships in the face of yet another interdimensional adversary from the Upside Down. This season underlines the strength of these relationships and how they’ve matured in such a short amount of time. While this season takes place only six months after the events of season three, each character is finally showing the strain of the years of trauma they’ve all endured. Yet, they still remain kids. Though Will really does need a new haircut, for the love of God.
Stranger Things is back and it was worth the long wait. The first seven episodes come together to tease a banger of season finale with volume two, containing episodes eight and nine, which premieres this upcoming July. Everything is coming full circle, with storylines from season one slowly weaving together to create a giant tapestry of conspiracy, death, ungodly creatures, and strong friendships. So get ready for a weekend of binging, because you won’t be able to stop watching once you start.
‘Stranger Things’ is finally back with a gory, exciting, and wild fourth season that’s more epic in scale than ever before.