Stranger Things season 4 Vol 1 review: Netflix's first blockbuster is scarier than ever before
Stranger Things season 4 Vol 1 review: Duffer Brothers prepare to say goodbye and go out with a scary, spooky bang in this first part of the final season of Netflix's first big hit.
In 2016, Netflix launched Duffer Brothers' Stranger Things into the world and nothing was ever the same. It changed everything we knew about the power of nostalgia, the constant demand for YA horror, the insurmountable coolness of the high school years and also how a show released on single streaming platform can achieve blockbuster status around the world, within a week. Stranger Things was a success story like no other. And six years later, as story of Hawkins' meddling kids begins to end with a final fourth season, Stranger Things has still so much good to offer. (Also read: Stranger Things recap: We rewatched the Netflix series so you don't have to)
Back in 2020, in my review of the third season, I rued how horror took a backseat while our heroes and heroines roamed the mall slurping slushees, slinging satin scrunchies or dumping stupid boys' ass. The villains were silly and boring and nothing really inspired any spook. However, I am happy (and still sad) to report that showrunners Duffer Brothers flip the tone completely this season. Even with multiple episodes running longer than 1 hour each, the brothers and their rotating directors do not put much effort in taking us through the fast times of Hawkins High, or the spring break weekend at Lenora. The easy moments of friendships and teenage romance manage mere slivers in a season packed with more horror than all three previous seasons combined.
There are gory deaths unravelling in front of the camera, mutilated bodies and a villain straight out of one of the better, Steven Moffat-grade episodes of Doctor Who. Now no one was ever expecting Stranger Things to go all A24 on its preteen viewers but the ending of episode one did rattle some strings on the back of my neck that I lately allow only Ari Aster to play with. This year, the fear isn't inspired simply by screeching, mushroom-shaped disgusting lizard monsters but by the real world horror that life can be. And this time, past trauma, self-hate and the all-consuming guilt are the ultimate villains our heroes have to fight. Of course, it does get convenient to drive a stake through these issues when they are embodied by a slimy, murderous monster that lurks in the Upside Down, inspired by concepts similar to Pennywise the Clown and Dementors.
This season, up against this new villain are once again Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her posse. Sadly, they are already split up even before the adventure begins. El, Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) decided to move to San Diego after the events of last season when Jim Hopper (David Harbour) was martyred. El is having a really bad time away from Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and her powers, unable to keep the bullies in her new school in check. Will's heartbreaking crush on Mike brings inspires more heartbreaking moments, Joyce finds clues to find potentially-still-alive Hopper and Jonathan… is just having the best time smoking up ‘plants’.
Back in Hawkins, things kick off with Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Nancy, Steve and Robin on the same flavour as before: more Dungeons and Dragons, more tests of friendships and more searching for girlfriends. That is, until the villain strikes his first victim. Everything else takes a backseat as the gang sets out to ‘Scooby Doo this crap’. Teams get made, hot babysitters are installed again, kids trespass lawns and mental asylums, all in the search for truth and the sweet, sweet need to make sure their friends stay alive. The new season is set across four majorly different locations but all of it is somehow far simpler to follow than before and all the run ins, reveals and twists are well written into the story.
However, some characters do suffer a bad fate. The biggest disappointment comes from the treatment of Joyce. Once the parallel lead of the show, she is now simply tagging along with the more electric Murray on a rescue mission. With some gasps here and there, Winona wraps up her part without much to take home. On the contrary, Millie had so much to do all through the season but all of it was rather boring to sit through. From the overdone bullying scenes to the latter half of the show spent in the fluorescent light of the lab, not a single scene of hers stands out apart from the ‘adult fight' with Mike. Both Finn and Millie were giving baby Malcolm and Marie.
Actually, it was all the new entries that were the best parts of the season. From misjudged senior Eddie to tormented cheer captain Chrissy to El's creepy new friend at the lab to the ganja-smoking pizza boy Argyle and the entire, hilarious detour to a friend's crazy house in Ohio. But this has always been the superpower of Stranger Things. From scientist Lexi to boyfriend Bob Newby to bully Billy, the show has somehow created characters that one can fall for even if they are introduced with the new season.
That being said, the old bunch still has a ton of fun looking for clues, ransacking haunted mansions, evading law, riding bikes, listening to great music and saving humanity once again. While the first seven episodes released on Netflix on May 27, the final two will arrive on July 1. Thankfully, the break comes at an appropriate juncture. Big truths are learnt, reveals are made that can potentially keep fans engaged and talking for a few weeks until the show returns one last time.