After three years of filming, "Stranger Things 4" was finally released on May 27, 2022. (Netflix)

Opinion

Review: How ‘Stranger Things 4’ completely reinvented the show

“Stranger Things 4” is undoubtedly the darkest, biggest and most distressing season.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/elisepark0adcdfe183/" target="_self">Elise Park</a>

Elise Park

June 9, 2022
Warning: This review contains spoilers.

It’s that time of year again. Well, it’s actually the first time in the past three years. Netflix finally released the long-overdue season four of the massively popular show “Stranger Things” on May 27. From the moment I sat down and clicked play, I was glued to the screen.

With the show’s remarkable cinematography, grisly visual effects and unique set design, I was immediately transported to the 80s, and unlike Marty Mcfly, I did not want to go back to the future. That said, it didn’t take longer than a day to finish the seven episodes.

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” picks up on quite a depressing note. We return to Hawkins, Ind. to find the kids have split up: Max (Sadie Sink), tormented by nightmares of her brother’s death, broke up with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), now a star basketball player interested in joining the popular crowd, who in turn ditched Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), part of the school’s Dungeons and Dragons Hellfire Club.

New characters emerge, including who appears to be this season’s fan-favorite and the leader of Hellfire, Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), and the charming cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham played by Grace Van Dien (though, spoiler alert, she doesn’t stick around for too long).

Over in California, the Byers and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) attempt to settle in but aren’t doing too well. Despite being abducted from her mother, growing up in an experimental facility and facing near-death at least a dozen times, it appears Eleven is truly at a low point here, feeling–quite literally–powerless, as she suffers from harassment from her new classmates.

We can’t forget about our heroic chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) in Russia. He’s not doing too well either. But, then again, I’m not sure anyone would if they were tortured and locked up in a top-secret Russian prison.

“Stranger Things 4” is undoubtedly the darkest, biggest and most distressing season. What were once playful jokes, a lighthearted montage of shopping to Madonna and random bursts into the song “Never Ending Story” seem to be entirely replaced with adult themes of trauma and loneliness. Almost every character is haunted by their past, in part due to Vecna, the show’s greatest villain yet.

The cinematography in this season is as stunning as ever, with shots that will turn you upside down and macabre visuals that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The series takes a hard right toward the horror genre with direct references to cult classics like “Nightmare on Elm Street,” even starring the real Freddy Krueger as the murderous myth Victor Creel (Robert Englund).

The Duffer Brothers didn’t hold back on their fear factor either — fair warning: You will see eyes gouged out, fingers snapped and jaws ripped open. But who needs sleep anyway, right?

At first, I wasn’t a fan of the new “Stranger Things.” In comparison to season three with its bright wardrobe, fireworks and vibrant in-your-face 80s aesthetic, I felt this season was just… lacking. Although, the more I watched, the more I was pulled in. Of course, I thought some plotlines were outright boring.

Mike, Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) become pretty much irrelevant throughout the season, and while ultimately bittersweet, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray’s (Brett Gelman) whole mission to save Hopper plays off as a bit predictable and drawn out.

The real action takes place where it all began in Hawkins, as our favorite characters Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (May Hawke), Max, Lucas and Dustin investigate the question: Who is Vecna?

In fact, my favorite moment boils down to the end of “Chapter Four: Dear Billy,” arguably the show’s greatest installment of all time. Sadie Sink’s portrayal of the guilt-ridden and isolated Max makes for the best character development in this season. While mostly targeting teens, the show is highlighting a truly universal message about opening up to others and coping with traumatic experiences.

After Max discovers a strength in recalling happier moments from earlier seasons, she bolts away from Vecna, an allegory for trauma and depression, as debris and falling boulders nearly crush her. All the while, we hear Kate Bush’s hit single “Running Up That Hill,” adding the magic of the 80s to a truly heart-wrenching and thrilling sequence.

We can’t talk about “Stranger Things” without talking about the one who started it all — Eleven. When she decides to become a superhero again, she is forced to relive all the agonizing memories she had locked away in her mind. Millie Bobby Brown delivers a poignant performance that delves deeper into the origin of her powers and the Upside Down.

However, this plotline doesn’t become all that interesting until the end of “Episode 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” when the pieces all seem to come together. Not only does the finale flawlessly set up the events in the first season, we finally learn the identity of this year’s menacing villain Vecna. Or should I say 001?

Overall, season four exceeded my expectations in almost every way with unmatched visuals, riveting storytelling and a startling aspect of maturity. The kids of “Stranger Things” are no longer the goofballs we fell in love with in season one, but they still lack the wisdom of adults, making the show all the more realistic despite featuring alternate dimensions and superpowers.

And although “Stranger Things” is known for its crazy, terrifying monsters from the Upside Down, the characters battle real-world monsters too — guilt, trauma and depression — spreading a truly important message to everyone, no matter their age.

I don’t know about anyone else, but Volume 2, which is scheduled to release on July 1, seems too far away. As for now, I suppose playing “Running Up That Hill” on loop will tide me over.

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