Stranger Things Season 4 is dedicatedly macabre and menacing, its deadly ambitions and volatile tempo keeps the mood edge-of-the-seat, applauds Sukanya Verma.
I did not look at the watch once while binge watching on the fourth season of the long-awaited, long-drawn-out Stranger Things.
When I did look, I simply had no choice.
It was right there on the screen, this humongous, ominous grandfather clock going tick tock every time its victim was around the corner, setting the stage for a nasty attack in the vein of a slasher flick.
Ever since The Duffer Brothers announced the exact running time of season four split into two unusually lengthy volumes, everyone's been going back and forth over wondering if it's hara-kiri, indulgence or inaptitude.
Volume 1, which dropped on Netflix on May 27, features seven episodes, but its final two mini-movie length episodes are reserved for Volume 2 that comes out on July 1. As someone attuned to K-dramas, 78 minutes is a breeze.
Addressing the elephant in the room early on, a character explains how, 'Time is funny like that. Emotions can make it speed up or slow down.'
Duffer Bros leave it for the fans to decide whether or not what they have painstakingly built is worth paying attention to or not.
Since the show's breakout debut in 2016, Stranger Things has seamlessly slipped into pop-culture consciousness.
What started out as an exuberant game of find-all-the '80s references and hat-tips to everybody from Steven Spielberg to Stephen King went on to take a life of its own.
Stranger Things is groundbreaking not for its borrowed nostalgia but how effortlessly it blended back in time.
It never felt like a recreation of an era.
It was that era.
A big chunk of its success can be attributed to an incredibly astute cast.
The Duffer Brothers found children that not only embodied the face and values of the 1980s but bright minds we wanted to know better and root for.
Ditto for the anxious, restless young adults at the threshold of bloom. And the handful of grownups it did rope in added the right amount of heft and warmth.
Back then, nobody knew how long these adventures would last.
In retrospect, it helps that we like them more for their smarts and sensitivity because the kids have come of age and cute has made way for awkward.
After a three year wait (trying even for die-hard fans) things are, finally, moving towards their natural conclusion in and outside Hawkins. (You'll have to be patient though. Season five aka the final one is officially in the works.)
Three months after the Battle of Starcourt and stripped off her superpowers, Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) is dealing with monsters of the Mean Girls kind at her new school in California even as Will's (Noah Schnapp) delicately hinted sexual struggle continues.
His big brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and pizza delivering buddy Argyle (new character alert: Eduardo Franco) are perennially high as a kite while mum Joyce (Winona Ryder) is doing all the Joyce stuff.
Back in Hawkins, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have joined a nerdy Dungeons and Dragons club led by a metal-loving junkie Eddie Munson (new character alert: Joseph Quinn) while Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) joins the cool jocks club under blue-eyed basketball star Jason's (new character alert: Mason Dye) lead.
Max (Sadie Sink) is still haunted by brother Billy’s (Dacre Montgomery) brutal death last season.
Everyone is drifting away and in denial about what they want from themselves or their friends.
Not so much for Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) witty banter whose venue has shifted from a mall to a video rental. But the equation gets some real sizzle when Steve's feisty ex Nancy (Natalia Dyer) enters the picture.
Stirring all things sinister though is Vecna, a creepy new villain on the scene whose Freddy Krueger-like skills prey on unsuspecting targets’ minds ensuing in ghastly scenes of annihilation.
Once again, the lives of Hawkins locals are in jeopardy and Eddie's taking the heat for an alternate dimension occupying demon's actions.
Alluding to the panic set by the role-playing fantasy game those days, his Dungeons and Dragons obsession is perceived 'satanic' by flag bearers of morality.
Before Vecna’s violence and villain origins unfold, Eleven must rise to the occasion even if it means revisiting the most deeply buried ugly secrets about her lab rat life.
While she undergoes a psionic boot camp, her well-wishers buy time turning into mini Sherlocks looking for clues and connections concerning the mysterious link between Vecna and Victor Creel (new character alert: Robert Englund), a gruesome looking figure convicted for heinous crimes.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hopper (David Harbour) has survived the frying pan and landed in fire (as revealed in the trailer itself) -- an unpleasant Russian gulag harbouring a bloodthirsty beast. Hopper's only shot at survival is if Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) can come to his rescue.
As always new pairs are formed and fresh chemistry is established.
But the time for romance and innocence is long over as science fiction and horror reign supreme.
Season 4 is dedicatedly macabre and menacing, its deadly ambitions and volatile tempo keeps the mood edge-of-the-seat.
But it's also deliriously sprawling in content.
Between accommodating its tons of characters, their objectives and personality, Stranger Things cannot avoid its uneven texture.
Against its constantly changing landscape, someone is trying to escape from prison, someone's engaged in a ransom exchange, someone's volunteered to be part of an underground human experiment, someone's posing as psychology student to meet a deadly criminal, someone's in a high speed road chase, someone from the military is threatening someone from the CIA, someone's writing goodbyes, someone's discovering the Internet, someone's dodging bullies, parents or cops.
I was entertained to bits.
Things never get dull.
They just get chaotic.
And so, SO immersive. (Best enjoyed on the biggest available screen in an empty, dark room.)
Though I did find the Russian detour a tad trite and dragged out.
Despite the talent on display and the hassle they go through, Joyce and Hopper's absence from Upside Down feels like the only time Duffer Brothers overindulge a bit.
Eleven confronting the source of her powers prodded by a charismatic lab nurse (new character alert: Jamie Campbell Bower) may seem deceptively repetitive but the final payoff makes it so worth its groundhog day pattern.
The acting is heartfelt as ever.
All the original members do well but Sink and Hawke steal the show.
Among its brand new additions, Quinn and Bower are instant favourites.
It's also nice to see Nancy in action and the slight sparks between her and Steve again.
Good gets lonely in absence of evil.
And Stranger Things has time and again delivered its most formidable face.
'This evil is like a virus. Each time it comes back it's stronger, smarter, deadlier.' Volume 1 identifies its perils. Volume 2 hopes to shoot it down in flames.
The wait for July begins.
Stranger Things streams on Netflix.