Stranger Things S4 review: Netflix series is another polished slice of nostalgia
Stranger Things than demi-gorgons await the unwary who venture out into Hawkins after dark.
This globally recognised Netflix series, which has morphed into a cultural touchstone, hits the streaming platform from 27 May burdened with glorious purpose.
The Duffer brothers Matt and Ross, have guided every single season since inception, without losing one inch of ground either dramatically or otherwise.
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Creating a phenomenon in the process which has redefined how show runners, writers and industry experts shape their content. A statement which will lose none of its potency, once audiences experience season 4.
With all the intricacy which people have come to expect, this new entry quickly reveals itself to be a structurally polished piece of storytelling. Opening with a cunning use of voice over, which brings audiences up to speed on established characters, episode one immediately lays down foundations. Allowing Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) time to find their feet in this latest expansion pack.
With our protagonists locked into 1986 surrounded by roller discos, video rental outlets and serious amounts of questionable fashion, some Stranger Things start unravelling this reality. Bringing genuine dread to the screen, as these writers really push boundaries and test censorship limits for something carrying a fifteen certificate.
Read more: Stranger Things 4 adds graphic violence content warning
One thing which is worth mentioning about season 4 are those running times, which fluctuate between an hour and two hours plus in length. Something which has caused concern amongst fans of the show, who consider it a problem. As some episodes carry a running time more in line with cinema releases, making people question the reasons behind it.
Watch a trailer for Stranger Things
Rest assured the Duffer brothers have left no fat on season 4, meaning that every minute of screen time is essential viewing. However, this is an intricate piece of work, which interlinks numerous extraneous plot threads into one cohesive whole. Building tension like a conductor constructs melody through an orchestra, season four is allowed time to create a crescendo.
With Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) mourning the death of Jim Hopper (David Harbour), while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Will Byers (Charlie Heaton) remain separated through academic necessity, something evil waits in the dark. Watching these relationships forged over three seasons, experience moments of uncertainty, while audiences rely on a creative trust built up over time with the Duffer brothers.
Read more: Who's who in Stranger Things S4?
Call backs to that secret government lab have now become contextual touchstones, which give potency to a present day where Eleven has no powers. Hawkins itself is now considered a place which harbours pure evil beneath its shifting surface. Wishing to meter out punish and retribution upon the unruly, who dare to challenge whatever lays beneath.
Beyond that, Stranger Things celebrates a time when movie making was unsullied by studio interference or concerned with audience demographics. Visual effects were practical, tangible and terrifying for all the right reasons. A time when pioneers of cinema still measured boundaries with the limits of their own imagination.
With a storyline which openly addresses bulimia, embraces high school bullying and does so without preaching from the pulpit, season 4 also offers more than gore filled jump scares. Looking to level the playing field for anyone who has ever felt awkwardly out of place, or isolated for being individuals.
However, this opening foray also delivers a cleverly layered coming of age story, combined with all the teenage angst elements of a classic John Hughes flick thrown in. Grounded in fine fashion by some superior performances from its teenage cast, who have all grown into their roles. Allowing the writers to fine tune character arcs, while granting them freedom to explore them within those perimeters.
This means that when things go south, as they inevitably will, audiences are already invested having watched these actors grow up. In these cynical times that level of commitment is hard to come by, even in a long running series with a guaranteed fanbase. Similar to Top Gun: Maverick, which is due for release very soon, Stranger Things is something special.
With this penultimate season it has finally bridged the gap between film and television, creating something which utilises the best of both worlds. By taking box office out of the equation as well, this series may be partially responsible for boosting subscribers, essentially paying Netflix back for investing time and money into an untested idea packed with potential.
An idea which has not only paid off for the Duffer brothers, but will become a formative influence on future film makers seeking inspiration.
Part I of Stranger Things Season 4 is streaming on Netflix from 27 May.