No one could have imagined that when Season 3 of STRANGER THINGS premiered on July 4, 2019, just half a year later the world would shut down over the COVID-19 virus. It’s been three years since we last saw the entire gang and, boy oh boy, did it leave viewers with one hell of a cliffhanger. Sorry, I won’t be revealing anything about that in this review! Now, only a few days away from the Season 4 premiere, our favorite gang of teenagers from Hawkins, IL, are back again, and you better believe me when I say a lot has changed.
So as to not accidentally reveal any spoilers, I’ve turned to the official synopsis for Season 4 of STRANGER THINGS: It’s been six months since the Battle of Starcourt, which brought terror and destruction to Hawkins. Struggling with the aftermath, our group of friends are separated for the first time – and navigating the complexities of high school hasn’t made things any easier. In this most vulnerable time, a new and horrifying supernatural threat surfaces, presenting a gruesome mystery that, if solved, might finally put an end to the horrors of the Upside Down.
The series wastes no time in showing where our beloved characters are now after the devastating events that took place at the end of Season 3. Having moved her kids, along with Eleven, to a new area outside of Hawkins, Joyce (Winona Ryder) is now a telemarketer, a job that allows her to work from home and keep an eye on her kids. Eleven/Jane (Millie Bobby Brown) and Will (Noah Schnapp) have begun to acclimate themselves to their new school, which, unfortunately, comes with new bullies.
Meanwhile, back at Hawkins, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are still dedicated to D&D, while Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has begun to find himself drawn to the more popular crowd, a contentious situation that’s explored more as the season progresses. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is now the editor of the school paper while her boyfriend Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is trying to figure out what to do with his life when he’s not stoned.
Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) friendship is still going strong even if Steve still has lingering feelings for her. They continue to have a great rapport and it’s enjoyable watching them work together at a video store. Max (Sadie Sink), however, has become increasingly solitary, barely interacting with anyone in the group or anyone in general, as she comes to terms with the trauma and grief of losing her brother, Billy. As the viewer, we are seeing these characters, individually, come into their own for the first time resulting in each of them having to confront their own truth and/or their own past.
This season also introduces us to some new characters. There’s Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) a popular cheerleader who’s hiding her own secrets, and Argyle (Eduardo Franco), who plays the comic relief as well as Jonathan’s stoner buddy. There’s also my personal favorite, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the head of The Hellfire Club, an organization for outliers and those who love D&D. Plus, there’s Robert Englund, but we will keep his performance under wraps for the sake of spoilers.
The visuals, per usual, are eye-popping and electrifying. The Duffer Brothers have no issue conjuring up the look and feel of the ’80s with notable set pieces, period-accurate clothing, and the music. In some ways, it feels incredibly grounded and realistic, at least up until when the Duffer Brothers start introducing more abstract imagery. The most notable is a grandfather clock that reveals itself to certain people in a very unique way.
And it is here where the series really shines. The Duffer Brothers have introduced more horror elements in STRANGER THINGS 4 than in any of the previous seasons. Instead of the focus being on Demogorgons, we meet a new villain, Vecna. I’ll never pretend that the Demogorgons weren’t terrifying, cause they were. But Vecna brings about a new sort of terror and horror unseen before. By the end of episode one, viewers will get a taste of how far STRANGERS THINGS 4 is willing to push the envelope. With shades of Hellraiser combined with The Ring, horror fiends will be screaming in joy over the grotesque creations. Just like with the Harry Potter franchise, each season of STRANGER THINGS got progressively darker, with this season being the darkest yet.
STRANGER THINGS 4 also takes on hot-button issues such as bullying, drugs, and dangerous stereotypes outside of the supernatural elements. STRANGER THINGS has always had a close relationship with D&D. D&D was how the gang came together initially. But now we are seeing how that game has been shoved into the spotlight as something dangerous and Satanic. Since this takes place in 1986, it’s no surprise that the writers have begun to introduce the crumbs of hysteria surrounding the Satanic Panic era.
The series as a whole has a much more serious adult tone to it which, after three seasons, feels like a natural progression. Despite the necessary aging up of the series’ tone, the question does arise whether or not the story and its tone sync with how rapidly the cast has aged between seasons. With a fifth season confirmed, my concern is that these actors will age out of their characters in a way that’s hard to imagine them as high schoolers. I will say that despite the noticeable aging, it becomes less distracting the further we get drawn into the story.
Overall, STRANGER THINGS 4 is going to be a favorite for a lot of horror fans. This season is bigger, scarier, and darker than its predecessors and I feel confident saying that it’s the best season so far. Our characters may be going down separate paths but, as has been the case previously, they all come back together to help fight against something far more dangerous than they could have ever expected. The Duffer Brothers have created a love letter to the horror genre and, considering how much darker this season is, I can only imagine what the final season will bring us.
STRANGER THINGS 4 Vol. 1 will launch on Netflix on May 27, 2022. Vol. 2 will launch on Netflix on July 1, 2022. So, mark your calendars!
All images courtesy Netflix.
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