By all accounts, Stranger Things, Netflix’s upcoming Winona-Ryder-starring supernatural mystery show, starts off with an eerie, Top of the Lake-like concept: a missing child, and a town torn apart by his absence. From there, though, theres no simple explanation: The government is up to something (and perhaps Matthew Modine’s character), or hiding something as they are in every seminal episode of The X-Files.
But aesthetically, and quite literally, the references date back further: to the midwest in the 1980s, when the show is set. Netflix’s elevator pitch for the series describes it as a, “love letter to the ubiquitous cult classics” of the ‘80s. Ryder has affirmed this fact in interviews, also mentioning supernatural blockbusters like Close Encounters and E.T., evoking a sense of mystery and wonder. She comments directly on “nostalgia”-wave in TV, and it seems likely that the decision to cast Ryder — once a huge star, but not so much these days — is, in its own way, a nostalgic tribute to ‘80s and ‘90s cinema.
The showrunners are the Duffer brothers, who wrote for the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Twin Peaks-esque mystery series Wayward Pines, and wrote and directed last year’s dystopian contagion thriller Hidden. By all indications, Stranger Things is more than in their wheelhouse, and a chance for them to make a proper name for themselves.
The amount of child actors on the show is notable: One can probably assume the bike-riding gang of them have some ability to tap into the supernatural on the level that the adults cannot, as if a group pulled out of a Stephen King TV adaptation. From the trailer, it seems like they at least band together to do some investigation of the mystery on their own; they are the ones who are willing to believe.
More from Netflix’s page:
In the promotional clips, lights flicker (a lot), mysterious matter hovers in the air, an odd serial number is branded to a boy’s arm… a voiceover line (“He’s hiding…”/“From who?”) indicates that perhaps the bad guys in the situation are not alien boogeymen, but humans conspiring to suppress some untold wonder.
Hey, it’s all speculation. But though Stranger Things looks very promising and like a lot of fun for fans of “unexplained phenomena” fiction, its clearly wearing its templates on its sleeve. Whether it manages to pull any unexpected, truly daring punches remains to be seen; let’s hope the inevitable twists really grab us, otherwise Stranger Things could fall into the category of Another Mediocre Netflix Show — an empty genre experiment that doesn’t stick with the viewer past its runtime.
Stranger Things hits Netflix on July 10th.