Inside the Upside Down: Called “the show of the summer” by the New York Times, Stranger Things, airing on Netfilix, is not ordinarily my type of fare, but with a window open on the binge front, and with all the plaudits it has received – and the fact that Winona Ryder is back in the spotlight in her role as a mother whose young son disappears under mysterious circumstances – well, that sealed the deal.
Pitch-perfect in its depiction of a small midwestern town in early-Eighties America, the series, created by the thirty-something Duffer Brothers (themselves born in 1984), also borrows liberally from such defining films of the era as E.T., Poltergeist, and Stand By Me, as well as assorted offerings by Stephen King. (The font for the title looks straight from a King novel.)
Horror and fantasy not particularly being my cup of tea, I was most surprised by the emotional connection that Stranger Things was able to wield via the terrific child actors at the heart of the story. They wrap themselves around your psyche in all sorts of peculiar ways, none more so than the astonishing Millie Bobby Brown, the young British actress who plays the telekinetically enabled and unusually named “Eleven.” Suffice to say this little girl has quite the remarkable powers; she hooks up with the three boys searching for Winona’s missing son, and is on the lam from a laboratory where government agents used her as a guinea pig and potential weapon in the fight against the Russians (remember the Cold War?)
Anyway, her performance is really something to watch; she has limited dialogue, so expressions must convey all she feels, and every one of them cuts to the quick. Stranger Things is worth seeing just for the joy of encountering such a great new talent.
Oh, and back to Winona. How perfectly appropriate that she would be cast in a project that takes place in the decade which saw her emergence as one of the iconic actresses (Heathers, Beetlejuice) of her generation. Here, her acting has just the right amount of jitteriness required for a character who’s borderline nutso (due to the circumstances, of course). And just the necessary number of “Winona-isms” without which the occasion would not be complete.
So welcome back to Winona, goodbye to the summer…and here’s to a season two (just announced!)