This review covers part 1 of season 4 only
Stranger Things Season 4 has just landed on Netflix, but with a catch. The new release is Volume 1, featuring 7 episodes, with the final 2 episodes making up Volume 2 due to hit our screens a month later on 1st July. Due to lengthy runtimes and the amount of post-production involved, show creators the Duffer brothers decided to split the series into 2 parts, which puts a slight black mark on an otherwise fantastic season so far.
The season opens in 1979 in the Hawkins Lab, 4 years before the events of the first season. We see Doctor Brenner (Martin Modine) undertaking tests on number 10, only to be interrupted by alarms and the sound of screaming. Brenner is knocked unconscious and awakes to find everyone murdered, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) alive, seething and covered in blood.
The action then jumps to the present day, and it’s 6 months since the Byers and Eleven have left Hawkins for California. Eleven is being bullied at school and takes solace in the letters she writes to her boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Will (Noah Schnapp) is acting weird and spending all his time painting, and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is spending his time getting stoned with his friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco). Joyce (Winona Ryder) meanwhile, receives a mysterious package in the mail from Russia and ropes in old ally Murray (Brett Gelman) for help.
Back in Hawkins, Mike, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are members of the Hellfire Club, a Dungeons and Dragons gaming group. Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) are working in the video store bemoaning their respective love lives. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is now editor of the local newspaper, and Max (Sadie Sink) is spiralling into a depression after the death of her brother Billy at the hands of the Mindflayer.
As always in Hawkins, things don’t stay calm forever and soon the high schoolers are tormented by visions and nightmares, leading to some rather gruesome deaths. As the friends in Hawkins come together once again to solve the case, Eleven gets into trouble in California and is picked up by Doctor Owens (Paul Reiser), where she uncovers the truth about her past and how it is linked to the concerning events happening in Hawkins.
The episodes in this part of the season vary in length from 60 to 90 minutes, and the first episode had me slightly concerned as it was a little slow to get going, mostly because it focuses on picking up on each of the character’s daily lives. But it really picks up from episode 2 and had me hooked from there on out, mostly due to a hugely interesting plot that is really quite terrifying at times. Stranger Things has always been dark but season 4 is definitely the darkest and most gruesome season so far. It’s very creepy, scary, and full of blood and gore, and with a brilliant cameo from Mr Krueger himself, Robert Englund, making for a very intriguing watch.
This has everything you’d expect from Stranger Things, a great soundtrack, sharp dialogue and humour, but it does also follow the same old formula from previous seasons. Not necessarily an issue as if it’s proven to work, so why change now? There does appear to be a fair amount of cheese and cliché in this season so far, some that works and some which is a little tired and predictable – a last minute basketball win is one notable occasion of the latter. But then there are other moments of sheer genius, like Murray’s hilarious karate black belt antics and the introduction of Tom Wlaschiha as Russian guard Dmitri, who brings the same charm and charisma that he did in his role as the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar in Game of Thrones.
For me, there are 2 main issues with season 4 so far. The first is the structure and the decision to split it into two parts. The reasons behind this would be understandable if it were not for the fact that there’s only a month in between the release of volumes 1 and 2. Considering how captivating the story is this season, having to wait a month between volumes is incredibly irritating and frustrating, and the motives behind this for the sake of a month seem entirely incomprehensible and lead to a lot of cursing when I got to the end of episode 7.
Secondly, I’m quite concerned that Stranger Things has become synonymous for featuring a lot of deaths but yet none of these feature any main or noteworthy characters. In fact, a lot of characters seem to beat death rather miraculously, and this is becoming a little frustrating for me. The plots are getting scarier and more dangerous, yet the main cast of characters seem to be able to survive even the worst odds and this feels a bit ridiculous. There are a couple of instances in this new season where it appears as though they’re going to kill off a major character, which while shocking would make for incredible storytelling, but then a last-minute save swoops in and becomes all too predictable. Even with Hopper (David Harbour) who appeared dead at the end of series 3, it was revealed he was still alive in a teaser trailer released well before this new season aired – they couldn’t even keep this under wraps to make it a true surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see my favourite characters killed off, but not doing so means that the show is lacking in a rather brutal, ruthlessness that is needed for something so grounded in the horror genre.
Overall volume 1 of Stranger Things season 4 is a brilliant, horror filled event with a captivating, scary plot. There are some slight concerns with the structure and storytelling, but these will hopefully be resolved with the release of volume 2 in July.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!