Scooby-Doo-meets-Zodiac-killer, stoner action-comedy and a Russian prison movie—all rolled into one. That is how a cast member described the just-released season four of the hit show Stranger Things. That may just be the understatement of the year. Duffer Brothers, the creators, seem to have decided that the show—just like its central characters who were only kids when it started and are now pushing adulthood—needs to grow up. This means packing into a triptych story arc more thrills, horror, gore, and CGI than ever before.
But is that a good or a bad thing?
The first three seasons followed a bunch of children in 1980s America and their scary exploits with creatures from a netherworld existing parallel to their hometown—‘Upside Down’. The premise of the story may have been rooted in horror and sci-fi, but to say that the genre was the sole reason for its success would be akin to saying one loves Sunny Leone for her acting chops. One of the prime reasons Stranger Things appealed to a global audience was its unabashed homage to life in the 1980s. Peppered with pop culture references—from ET to The Goonies to Miami Vice—the show lured nostalgia fans who otherwise would not have been caught dead watching anything in the horror genre.
The 1980s are alive and kicking in season 4 as well—from roller skates and Dungeons & Dragons to Freddy Krueger and Madonna—but the gore, suspense and big budget dramatics now firmly take centre-stage. Luckily, it works, for the most part. Despite longer episodes, newer characters and laborious minutes spent in building back-stories and character sketches, the writers’ ingenuity in combining drama with disciplined scripting is stellar enough that not a moment feels drawn out or unnecessary. Even those slices of teenage angst and high school pangs seem to fit right in with squelchy monsters who hunt and haunt teen minds.
The pace does not slacken once the deaths start piling up a few minutes into the show, and the new scary monster, Vecna, makes his presence felt. Thankfully, a tight and crisp storyboard manages to keep the switching between multiple story arcs, locations and time periods pretty seamless.
Netflix has a lot riding on the show. When Stranger Things burst out of nowhere in 2016 to become a global sensation, it helped propel the OTT platform to galactic success. Till the likes of Squid Game, Money Heist and Bridgerton, this Emmy-winner was its most watched show globally.
Now, with the streaming platform’s viewership on the decline, it is time it gave back. A regular release of new seasons of hit shows may bring back the binge-watchers, Netflix hopes. It may also be the reason why Stranger Things 4 has been split into two, with 7 episodes releasing now and the remaining two to be unveiled on July 1. A fifth and final season has also been green-flagged by Netflix, slated for 2023. The mind-boggling $30 million per episode budget then, is par for the course.