'Stranger Things 4' Widens in Scope and Intensifies Its Horror

Created by the Duffer Brothers

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke, Sadie Sink, David Harbour, Winona Ryder, Robert Englund, Natalia Dyer

Photo courtesy of Netflix

BY Marriska FernandesPublished May 26, 2022

After three years, Netflix brings back one of its most popular shows for its penultimate season — Stranger Things 4 is bigger, bolder and the most ambitious run yet.

The season is divided into Volume 1, premiering on Friday (May 27) with seven episodes that run for almost nine hours, and Volume 2, with two final episodes that run for four hours and premiere on July 1. Critics were given the first seven episodes for review.

The new season takes place six months after Season 3's Battle of Starcourt. Joyce (Winona Ryder) and her sons Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) have moved to California along with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Back in Hawkins, IN, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has joined the high school basketball team, while Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are playing D&D in the Hellfire Club, led by the very goofy Eddie (Joseph Quinn). Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) are now working at the video store, while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is getting ready to go off to college with Jonathan. Max (Sadie Sink) is still reeling from the death of her brother Billy last season.

When Joyce finds out that Hopper (David Harbour) is alive and imprisoned by the Soviets, she jets off on a mission to find him alongside Murray (Brett Gelman).

Meanwhile, Eleven has to revisit her past with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) at the Hawkins Lab to get her powers back, and strange and mysterious deaths take over Hawkins. A new monster Vecna is feeding on his victims and their trauma. The gang then venture off to investigate and help stop these attacks, which leads them to a mysterious Victor Creel (Robert Englund).

This season is quite dark, and inspired by '80s horror films like the cult classic Nightmare on Elm Street. It's a treat to watch the nostalgic, larger-than-life set pieces and a Freddy Krueger-inspired villain Vecna take over the season. It truly feels like the team is leaning into mature storylines just as the kids are growing up. It's a welcomed throwback to see Englund play Creel, who is connected to Vecna; Englund is famous for his Freddy Krueger role in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

Vecna is terrifying and, when he is introduced, the kill scenes are gore-filled and terrifying — a spectacular feat visually, and it's a treat to watch the supernatural horror storylines unfold. Stranger Things hasn't ventured into such dark territory before, and it delivers some chilling moments.

Each of the seven episodes run for at least an hour long, but the long runtime isn't an issue. The time was used wisely to allow each narrative to fully form. There are a number of characters, but the writers don't simply write off any character; each one is given time to shine, and the actors use that to their advantage.

Dustin and Steve are always a favourite duo to watch — they complement each other well, and their comic timing is simply hilarious. A shorter run time wouldn't have allowed these characters the space to lean into their rapport. As a result, we get to see some memorable moments between the two. I would have happily watched an entire episode devoted to dynamic duo of Keery and Matarazzo.

Creators Matt and Ross Duffer have an eye for bringing in new characters who are just as engaging as the old ones. Maya Hawke and Sadie Sink were previous additions who have cemented themselves as strong core members of the show. This season, both Hawke and Sink dig deeper into their arcs: Sink almost entirely and splendidly anchors episode four, while Hawke is given more depth in her role, where she nails her comic timing while showing Robin's neurotic side.

Like the previous new additions, Eddie is certainly one of the highlights this season. Quinn is excellent in his role as the leader of the Hellfire Club. As he learns more about the Upside Down, he is drawn further into the mess of Hawkins and he soon becomes a standout on the show — being both entertaining and a breath of fresh air.

David Harbour is also given room to explore a tougher storyline for Hopper. No matter what is thrown his way, Harbour proves he is an underrated actor who simply adds to the narrative with his charisma. Even though he's in a prison in Russia, he steals the show in pivotal moments.

Millie Bobby Brown is ultimately the show's central figure, and she has much more emotional beats this time around, as her past is further explored. Hopefully this continues to pay off in the final two episodes in Volume 2.

But most importantly, this is the most exciting and terrifying villain the show has had. Vecna feeds off the teens' trauma, much like how Krueger fed off teens' nightmares. His backstory, once revealed, is weaved in quite neatly, and this monster feels far more like a plausible villain than any Mind Flayer or Demogorgon. He raises the stakes and earns his keep.

The '80s horror influences inspired the Duffer brothers to make a tonal shift from the prior seasons, easily making Stranger Things 4 the darkest and longest — and possibly most entertaining — entry yet.

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