Sunday, 5 April 2020

Stranger Things 3


Flaying Alive

Stranger Things 3
2019 USA TV


Okay so... the kids are back. And so are some Russians.

This 3rd Series of Stranger Things takes place, for the most part, in 1985. Which totally throws things out the window when most of the kids, except Dustin who is on his way home from summer camp, sneak into a screening of Day Of The Dead on its opening night. It begs the question I have been asking myself all the way through these three series. How come none of the kids are accountable for being out and about, sometimes missing for days, with none of their parents wondering where the heck they are? You’d think after all the stuff that the kids went through in Series One (reviewed here) and Two (reviewed here), they would be closely watched and supervised by now.

Anyway, this third season is easily as good as the second and far superior to the first. It does kind of wear its influences loud and clear on its sleeve though... especially in terms of the plotting which sees the return of the mind flayer taking over host bodies and a group of Russians who have built a secret facility, underground near Hawkin’s new shopping mall, The Star Court... and who are foolishly trying to open the ‘big, portal of terror’ once closed by Eleven at the end of the second series. I’ll come back to the story influences, as I see them, in a minute.

This one sees Dustin return with his new, ‘super duper’ ham radio, which has truly unbelievable range and which he calls Cerebro (yeah, okay, we get it already) and a whole lot of loved up stuff. Right away though, things are thrown into turmoil in terms of people pairing off for relationships, dumping each other and, in the case of Will Byers, getting angry that his friends aren’t interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons anymore... just not so angry that he can’t feel the presence of a part of the mindflayer that escaped the last series in the back of his head.

And, it’s actually a proper, full on horror story kind of series this time. The plot, which has Dacre Montgomery’s Billy character from Season 2 taken over by the mind flayer so he can start converting other people in the local community into slave zombies for said creature, is pretty much a cross between Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Blob. And it really goes for it too... I rarely make a fuss over special effects (unless they’re really bad) but I was very impressed with the goriness of the exploding rats and people in this one. Especially a wonderful horror moment, unseen by the two people who have just left a scene, of a rat exploding into a splash of red gore and intestines, only for said innards to start oozing and crawling their way out of its cage. Beware of the blob, you guys!

The show is filled with the usual witty one liners... when Max, played again by Sadie Sink, takes over from the adults in sorting out a pretty ugly looking medical emergency, the line that seals the deal is “I skateboard. Trust me.” Someone who’s used to dealing with horrific injuries on a regular basis I guess. Or the wonderful moment where she refrains from answering herself, Millie Bobby Brown’s query as Eleven of... “What are happy screams?”

Alas, a couple of regular characters die in this season, including one of my favourites near the end of the last episode (at least, we think that persons’s dead.... there’s kind of a mention made of an “American” in the mid post-credit scene at the end of the last episode*). So that’s a shame. However, there’s a fantastic new ‘potential love interest’ character in the shape of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter Maya Hawke playing Robin Buckley, who works at the Ice Cream parlour in the mall with Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington character, who’s certainly come a long way since his introduction as a possible villain in the first series. Actually, apart from being absolutely brilliant as a foil for Steve in this, Maya Hawke’s character demonstrates one of the things which impressed me the most about this series...

I just can’t tell you specifically why, in regards to her or it could be considered a spoiler.

What I can say, though, is that things play out a lot less predictably than they did in the previous two seasons. Things are set up, sometimes they have been set up from the previous year and... it does get pretty obvious how strings are going to be pulled but, for the majority of them (and excepting the death of two regular characters in the final episode, which you can kind of guess by the direction the script has gone in), the threads don’t pull together in quite the same way you thought they were going to... well, at least not yet, anyway. One or two things might still happen if there’s a fourth series but.. nope, things didn’t quite go as predictably as they did in the previous two shows... which I am very grateful for.

It also seems a lot darker... not just in the amount of blood and viscera in the majority of the episodes but also in terms of what’s at stake and the dramatic intensity of some of the scenes. There’s a beautiful ending to the sixth of the eight episodes where things get really dark for Eleven (and all of humanity) and the show's producers have decided to go 'full on' by using an extract from the Phillip Glass opera Satyagraha (probably my favourite opera, it’s on play at work all the time) and then allowed it to play out through the end credits too and, with the addition of this music, it really gives the visuals and dialogue a lift of ‘doom laden hell on Earth right around the corner’... which is just what this episode needed.

There are also the odd annoying things about the production. For example... and I can only assume this is in homage to the prolific nature of these same kinds of mistakes in many 1980s shows and movies, the kids penetrate a certain area of the Russian base by... crawling through air ducts. Dudes, this is such an awful cliché! My dad worked in the heating and building trade and he complains every time people do this in the media. Those things are filled with whacking great globs of machinery. You can’t be crawling through them. He also gets annoyed with the other thing the kids did in this one... look up to find a trap door in the lift so that they can escape discovery. Guys! When was the last time you ever saw a trap door in an elevator? Answer... never (or rarely). You don’t put them in otherwise you would have your passengers crawling out and making trouble when the lift gets stuck. This doesn’t happen!

Asides from that, though, Stranger Things 3 is probably the best of the three seasons so far but, honestly, after an ending like that where things seem to, despite the stupid mid-end credits sting, have come to a conclusion... well, I almost don’t want to see where they’d go with this one. I really don’t want another series after the way this one has finished so... yeah... loved it but not holding my breath for a fourth because, I suspect, unless the writers compromise themselves in ways I wouldn’t want them to, it wouldn’t be the same show. This season though... was a really nice slice of 1950s B Movie science fiction horror wearing 1985 clothes. So worth a look.

*Since I wrote this, that character is sighted alive and well in the trailer for Season Four, albeit in changed circumstances so, yeah, still in it I guess.

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