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STRANGER THINGS SEASON 4 VOL. 1 (2022) Review

Charlie reviews the first seven episodes of Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS 4, the series premieres tomorrow (May 27th).

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Stranger Things (Netflix)

After a three year hiatus, we are finally returning to Hawkins to face off against the biggest threat yet. When Stranger Things first debuted on Netflix in 2016, I don’t think anyone expected it to become such a huge part of modern day pop culture but six years later, The Duffer Brothers have arrived with Season Four and it might be the most ambitious series of telly you will see this year.

It’s been six months since the Battle at Starcourt Mall, which brought terror and destruction to Hawkins. Struggling with the aftermath, our group of friends are separated for the first time – and navigating the complexities of high school hasn’t made things any easier. In this most vulnerable, a new supernatural threat emerges, presenting a new and gruesome mystery that, if solved, might finally put an end to the horrors of the Upside Down.

One criticism I have seen in the past couple of weeks about this latest series is that nine hours of television, spanning seven episodes, is ridiculous. Thankfully, the Duffer Brothers excelled and tell such an expansive and huge story that fully warrants its hefty runtime. Each episode has so much compacted into it and needs at least an hour-long episode to have that setup and make it seem compelling. The script, written by the Duffer Brothers, feels a lot tighter this time around and a lot more focused compared to seasons two and three. They have perfectly been able to capture the magic from that first season. Every character feels like they have a purpose this time around and the Duffers handle everything so much more meticulously.

The cast are all back and the ensemble is even bigger this time around. Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson is clearly the character introduced in this season that gets the most to do as he becomes a core part of the central plot. In episode one I did feel that his character was too wacky and wasn’t sure if he would fit with this dark story about the supernatural. However, by the end of episode two he works so well with the gang and his relationship with the gang,
especially with Steve and Dustin, is perfect.

The rest of the returning cast are fantastic. The story in Hawkins, California and Russia all feel very well utilised as the Duffer Brothers balance the three core plotlines so well that they make it look easy. I did find the story in Hawkins to be the one that interested me the most as that’s where I feel most of the mystery is. Nancy (played by Natalia Dyer) felt like
she had a lot more screen time this time around, compared to previous seasons, and her relationship with Robin (Maya Hawke) worked incredibly well. However, Sadie Sink is the true standout this season because she is the true emotional anchor of series four. She is certainly Emmy worthy here as she showcases a range of emotions and her character, Max, is given the most to do out of everybody in the season.

Out of the seven episodes in Volume One, I did feel that episode four (titled Dear Billy) worked the best. Shawn Levy’s direction is, frankly, masterful and he really oozes a ton of emotion in the span of its seventy-eight minute runtime. You really get to see the grief that Max has faced after the events of season three and feel the toll that has taken on her.

After directing Free Guy and The Adam Project, Levy’s direction on episodes three and four on season four of Stranger Things feels like a massive departure as it is far more emotional and less comedic. I felt that these two episodes were top-tier Stranger Things and effective in expanding this world and evolving the mystery.

My one criticism of season four, however, is the use of flashbacks and how they are used too regularly and deter from the main plot. I am purposefully staying vague but they were easily the least interesting part of the series and made me feel a tad underwhelmed with the payoff in episode seven. When the stories in Hawkins, Russia and California were a lot more interesting, I felt like I was waiting to get back to those instead unfortunately.

Finally, we need to talk about the big villain, Vecna. He really is the most memorable antagonist in this show since the Demogorgon as he genuinely is frightening. His entire look is creepy while what he does in this season will keep you awake all night for the next few days. The use of practical effects looks mind-blowingly good and the threat he opposes creates real stakes for our gang.

Stranger Things Season Four Volume 1 is nine hours of fantastic science-fiction and horror, making it the best season since the original. The use of body horror is chilling and adds to the dark tone that is established in episode one. The huge cast is back on top-form but Sadie Sink steals the show as Max, adding emotion into this epic adventure. The hefty runtime is earned as the story is much more expansive this time around but this the biggest, boldest and most ambitious series to date. Let’s hope the Duffer Brothers stick the landing with Volume 2 as this is a triumphant season of television!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Stranger Things Volume 4.1 arrives on Netflix on May 27, 2022.

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