Several of you probably saw Stranger Things a year ago, but I just saw the first episode. The homage to the 1980s is lovely, but the artistic expression in the unified vision of the writing and directing is captivating. The Duffer brothers, who previously worked with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines, excel at building atmosphere and populating their world with sympathetic characters, despite these characters obviously being types pulled from Spielberg films like E.T. and The Goonies. I'm not a fan of the horror genre either, though there is a possibility the plot may head in that direction. I'm hoping more for something along the lines of Fringe.
As we have highlighted before, stories arise from structures built around the tent poles of character, plot, point of view, and setting. I use the word "atmosphere" here to reference "setting" or what others often refer to as "world building." (The allusions within to Tolkien are not surprising since many view Tolkien as the king of world building.) These building blocks are more than just "where the story happens"; they include the dimensions of the world: what is possible? I think "atmosphere" captures an important element: characters breathe in the air of this world. In their camera choices (angles to pans to closeups to color grading), the Duffer brothers draw us into their world, and we quickly realize that fantastical, and potentially horrifying, forces move in this world, disturbing the balance in this sleepy town, testing a series of relationships.
In many ways the band of boys steals the show--but the sheriff and the mother (a powerful performance from Winona Ryder) also fascinate. The boys (with their mysterious new friend Eleven) must discover what has escaped from the lab; they need to find their missing friend. It is the most infectious pilot I have seen in some time, and I look forward to exploring this world.