Categories: TV Reviews

‘Stranger Things’ season four review (Volume 1): Elaborate monsters, nostalgia and transformation highlight the scariest installment yet [Grade: A]

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Stranger Things’ aptitude lies in many elements; a continuously nostalgic storyline, soundtracks full of bangers, and an enigmatic cast, among others. It seems we’ve waited forever for the return of Eleven and the entire group from Hawkins. With the Duffer Brothers Emmy-winning hit returning on May 27 with Volume 1, fans will warmly welcome it and surely enjoy every characteristic of the Netflix Original Series — from its ever-changing horror features to the elaborate script and superb character development. 

A few months after the Battle of Starcourt, the group begins high school, for the first time split between Hawkins and West Coast, with Joyce (Winona Ryder), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), aka Jane, in California. The family still struggles with the disappearance of Hopper (David Harbour) and desperately attempts to have a normal high school life. Joyce, however, doesn’t give up and reunites with someone who can assist. 

In the meantime, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) navigate their lives back home, with Mike traveling to see Eleven, who’s been downplaying her classmates’ awful behavior. But soon, a new danger awaits — a monster named Vecna who feasts on guilt, fear, and grief. After another murder transpires, shaking the town’s residents and specifically the high school group of “freaks,” the Hellfire Club and Upside-Down experts have to band together to fight for humanity, with Brown’s Eleven taking a central part in the battle. 

There is no doubt that with the premiere of season 1, the Stranger Things franchise became globally popular, and its loyal fan base only grew from its debut in 2016. As a result, its fourth installment seems different from others, more mature and seasoned. This transformation reflects in the main characters, who are transitioning and becoming young adults. The division in style is also apparent in its structure — every episode is over an hour long, ranging from 1h 15m for the first episodes to a whopping 2h 30m for the finale and divided into 2 Volumes; Volume 1 includes episodes 1-7, and Volume 2 contains episodes 8 and 9, premiering on July 1. 

The show is undeniably successful thanks to its horror elements and amazing ability to connect younger and older generations. In the new season, the creators up the ante by letting characters follow the strangest paths. The overall execution is nearly flawless and feels like something out of the Ring, or Nightmare on Elm Street, making Volume 1 more startling and complex than before. One of the most detailed scenes lies in the “Dear Billy” episode, one of Volume 1’s best. All of the leads receive a well-deserved character development, including Max (Sadie Sink), who wields power to captivate the audience. In one of Sink’s most crucial scenes, the bloody red hues fill the screen as the actress delivers one of the best performances this season — brace yourself as you remain on the edge of your seat throughout it. 

The season also offers significantly fascinating portrayals of duos and further develops the legendary pairings we already know — the audience gets an uproarious insight into Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) growing friendship as they both talk about women (a lot!) and become a pair of budding besties giving one another dating advice. Hawke’s Robin officially becomes a recurring character and an integral part of the legendary gang. Her character and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) further uncover common ground and evolve into awesome partners in crime, verbatim and figuratively. 

Focusing on the core group, Eleven, Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, and now Max, grow and transition into a teenage era. Thus, season 4 still feels nostalgic, accompanied by confused adolescent feelings, and filled with 80s music. Additionally, the Duffer Brothers showcase the beginnings of new friendships for life and the development of relationships we already know and love — one of the many solid elements of Stranger Things

The friends split between Hawkins and California, each on a different adventure while growing into themselves and their true identities. Not to mention, we, as an audience, get to be a part of The Hellfire Club with them! The characters may be split, but their strong bond remains. At the same time, each of them and the actor behind each portrayal virtually grow up in front of the audience. They all make it possible to feel more connected with them and the show’s narrative.

The show’s breakout superstar, Millie Bobby Brown, continues to charm the audience as her Eleven remains at the forefront of the show, searching for more answers about the beginning of Upside Down, the nature of Vecna, and portals. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way forward is to go back. Eleven takes us on that journey with her as we gladly accept the voyage to the past. This season’s directors, including Matt and Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, and Nimród Antal, utilize every space and factor to reflect the narrative’s nostalgic time and dazzle the loyal fans with the elaborate, emotional roller-coaster of a script. Stranger Things Volume 1 ups the ante with heart-stopping scenes that will linger in our minds forever. It ends at the perfect juncture, invites the audience to the post-show discussion, and urges us to visit Volume 2. The installment leads to the final battle between Eleven and the direct source of the never-ending threat. 

Stranger Things 4 and its Volume 1 is a perfect supplement to the cult series and will undoubtedly become a favorite season of many. Next to its flourishing characters and complicated feelings, each episode compliments them with the right pacing and creative plot development. In addition, the show continues to engage the audience with its many layers. Loyal fans and viewers will be pleased and surely waiting excitedly for Volume 2.

Grade: A

Volume 1 of Stranger Things season four, consisting of episodes 1-7, will be released May 27 on Netflix. Volume 2, consisting of episodes eight and nine, will be released on July 1.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Zofia Wijaszka

Zofia resides in Los Angeles and is a film and television critic. She has previously written for The Mary Sue, First Showing, Film Threat, In Their Own League, Film Inquiry, and more. She loves the Scream movies, Carol, American Horror Story, and Schitt’s Creek.

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