This Netflix series is clearly a homage to several books and films from the ‘80s, and is set in that decade. There is Stephen King, with a bit of Stand By Me, a bit of Firestarter, and even an idea from the book From a Buick 8. (One of the characters is even named Steve King.) There is Steven Spielberg, with The Goonies and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. None of this is to condemn the show; it is actually fun to make the associations.
A young boy vanishes, and his mother, Winona Ryder, cannot be convinced he is dead, even after his body is found. The search for him involves several people and groups. His three best friends, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin, the school nerds and misfits, are looking, and of course his mother and older brother, Jonathan, who is the high school weirdo. You know the guy, the one the bullies single out and torment. There is also Nancy, the older sister of one of the friends, who teams up with Jonathan. Lastly there is the Chief of Police, a reasonable man who slowly comes to realize that something really, really weird is going on in his little town.
Arrayed against them is a powerful and secret government agency headed by Matthew Modine. I keep wondering when did it become commonplace, almost required, that the bad guys are our very own government? Back in the day, it was usually (though not always) the government who came to the rescue when the aliens landed or a monster got loose. That seldom happens anymore. And I guess it’s really not a mystery, is it? A big turning point was the revelations about things like MKUltra, the twenty-year mind control experiment on unknowing human subjects conducted by the monsters at the CIA, who behaved no better than fucking Nazis. And were never punished for it, not even a slap on the wrist. Things like that eroded a lot of my respect for at least certain parts of our government, especially institutions like the CIA, which I would abolish utterly if I had the power. I mean it, I would put all those incompetent blunderers out on the street and blow up the famous building in Langley.
Modine’s project is even worse than MKUltra, in that it involves experiments on children who aren’t even given names. The goal is to develop psi powers like telepathy and telekinesis. They do better than they had planned, and one girl, known only as Eleven, becomes powerful enough to escape and lead them on a merry and deadly chase, aided by the three misfit boys. But she also opens a portal into an alternate universe which is very, very nasty …
I enjoyed it, particularly the girl who played Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown. With her shaved head and lack of knowledge of the outside world, she is creepy and yet vulnerable. I wanted to cheer every time she used her powers to fuck with one of the bad people.