15 June 2024

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Eduardo Franco as Argyle, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan, Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, and Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Netflix Review – Stranger Things Season 4 Part 1 (2022)

Another year, another trip into the Upside Down and back to Hawkins. Finally.

As with many productions around the world, COVID wreaked havoc with the plans of Netflix and its filmmakers, hence the longer wait in between series. The COVID-induced delay has sent fans into something bordering a meltdown but their patience has been rewarded in more ways than one – indeed, in recent days leading up to the release of Part 1, the runtimes of the episodes made international headlines as they “broke the rules” usually associated with series such as this. All mini-movies in their own right, (Episode 9 will run almost 140 minutes) it’s both a plethora of content for fans but also increases the enormous pressure on The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy and co to continue to deliver and surprise its vast worldwide audience after three seasons. Not an enviable task by any means, but with a definitive conclusion already mooted they can afford to take a few risks and bring us something we haven’t seen, which is exactly what the first ¾ of the fourth go-around does.

All bets are off, here, and as the action begins to take hold you feel, for the first time, that victory for our intrepid group of young adults might look very different. Stretching the mythology even further, the odds are increased by the arrival of a new foe from the Upside Down unlike anything we have seen before, especially without troupe now fractured. Eleven, sans powers, is now residing in California with the Bowers, hoping to integrate herself into the real world as a teenager, while the rest are still in Hawkins when a bizarre series of events (aren’t they always?!) brings them back together after what has been a fractious year for them all. As things begin to unravel, hope presents itself that  Hopper may still be alive, in an undisclosed location, but even if they do find answers, this might be one battle too far. But The Duffers have outdone themselves here, using that pressure to their advantage to produce the most immersive, thrilling, and reflective season thus far: in amongst all of the 80s sci-fi/horror madness, they have infused this season with more pathos than ever before with their explorations of family, belonging, grief, loss, and identity as well as teenage angst, puberty, and early love. There’s a real poignancy here that feels fresh and new, a difficult thing to balance and pull off given the immense scope of the show, especially as the budgets for this season are the biggest ever. But the creators and their team know the show will rise and fall on the emotional core and while Season 3 wasn’t quite on a par with the first two, this one is perhaps the strongest example of what they envisaged when they first pitched the show.

Of course, for those who crave all the goodies that come with the Stranger Things package, there is plenty of excitement not least with the changes in the Upside Down and the new menacing presence that is beginning to puncture the realities. Without spoiling anything, the threat may be too much for them all.

★★★★


Horror, Fantasy | USA | 15 | Season 4, Part 1 | 27th May 2022 | Netflix | Creators: Duffer Brothers | Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink


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