Published date31 May 2022
Publication titleSignal
Yet the gamble pays off. If large budgets are to be indulged, one wants to see them clearly on the screen, and that’s immediately the case as we cruise back into Hawkins, the small Indiana town perched on a portal to a monster-infested netherworld, in 1986. Simple scenes such as kids arriving at high school or visiting a roller disco have a new scope, with scores of impeccably retro-shod extras and just the right vintage cars or Formica fittings. The beautiful strip-mall shop fronts, a giant labour of love for some lucky set designer, deserve their own Instagram account. There are more characters and more locations (Nevada, California, Alaska, Russia) as the ensemble is split up and scattered, giving ST4 enough strands to sustain episodes that routinely stray beyond an hour each. Everything is unapologetically bigger

More important, Stranger Things now has a supersized dramatic purpose, on the assumption that the 12-year-old viewers who were wowed by season 1 are now 18 and ready for darker meat. What was once a spooky but essentially cute thriller, in hock to Steven Spielberg, has taken on elements of full-blown horror inspired by The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Limbs snap. Eyes are gouged. Unlike the old monsters who would spend most of the season unseen, rattling windows and making lights flicker, this year’s impressively realised fiend — a hideous humanoid with no nose, claws for hands and a house in the benighted realm that could really benefit from significant modernisation — is in full horrific effect from the get-go.

The coming of age of Stranger Things does not stop at the gruesome special effects, either. The opening minutes include a reflection on how Hawkins is a community damaged by tragedy — specifically 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 the “Mind Flayer” and a gang of resourceful children. But in a show returning after a pandemic-induced delay, the contemporary resonance is unmistakable.

Surprisingly, the show follows through on this idea, matching the narrative’s...

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