Netflix is trying something a little different with “Stranger Things,” an eight-episode series throwback to horror movies of the 1980s, minus the burden of acquiring the rights to remake one.
It’s a fun idea, but this monster mash-up doesn’t quite coalesce into more than nostalgia. Set in 1983, the show presents a world filled with plucky kids, shadowy government experimentation and a near-silent girl known only as Eleven (Millie Brown), who harbors strange secrets and possesses extraordinary powers.
Press materials describe the series as a “love letter to ‘80s supernatural classics that captivated a generation.” Clearly, there are touches of “Poltergeist” and “The Goonies” baked into the idea, as well as “The Fury,” Brian De Palma’s 1978 psychic thriller.
Still, “Stranger Things” ultimately has to stand on its own. And too often the pacing just limps along – spooning out story in a way that practically demands bingeing, and even then never really disgorging all its secrets.
Sibling series creators Matt and Ross Duffer, working with director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”), have an obvious feel for the genre and period. Still, if stranger things have happened in this genre, better ones have too.
The action takes place in a Mayberry-like little Indiana town, where one of the local nerds abruptly disappears. This causes understandable hysteria on the part of his mom (Winona Ryder), initially pooh-poohed by the local sheriff (David Harbour), who finds it hard to believe anything really bad could happen there.
Bad things are happening, though, from the dangerous creature that appears to be on the loose to those eerie flickering lights. And while the adults are taking their time responding, the missing kid’s trio of friends (who spend a lot of time referencing “The Empire Strikes Back”) and his teenage brother (Charlie Heaton) join the quest to find him, with the arrival of Eleven yielding some pubescent confusion but also a helpful dose of psychic muscle.
It’s worth noting that viewers never really get much of a look at the monster, a somewhat frustrating staple of limited-budget productions from the not-always-so-good-old days. The writers are equally stingy in sharing details about Eleven, other than flashbacks of the creepy white-haired dude (Matthew Modine, lacking only a twirled mustache) who’s hot on her tail.
The series makes good use of period songs, and elicits credible performances from its kid contingent, although the teenage subplot proves a little tiresome.
Ultimately, though, “Stranger Things” feels more like a product of Netflix’s metrics – hey, if you just watched an old horror movie, try this – than something worth mentioning among the service’s top-tier originals.
“Stranger Things” premieres July 15 on Netflix.