‘Stranger Things 4’ breaks records with most haunting, explosive season yet

Sage Dunlap, Life & Arts Reporter

The fourth season of “Stranger Things” hit Netflix on May 27, with the first of two volumes being released for streaming. The first seven-episode installment made for a glorious premiere for the hit show, which has become one of Netflix’s most viewed English-language series.

Viewers’ favorite monster fighters and telekinetic heroes take on an even bigger beast this season: Hawkins High, where Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Max struggle under the pressures of popularity and high school cliques. Meanwhile, thousands of miles west, Will, Eleven and Jonathan tackle Lenora Hills High School in California, where El gets into trouble at the hands of relentless bullies.

However, as the show continues, it becomes apparent that the group’s conflicts completely surpass high school drama when a grizzly murder shocks the Hawkins community. After digging into the incident, the group recognizes the work of a sinister, supernatural force, causing it to face the Upside Down once again. While the Hawkins team sorts through police records and victim accounts to assemble clues, El receives a visit from an old adversary who warns her she must save Hawkins from irreversible doom. Though separated by thousands of miles, the gang teams up once again to face the horrors of the Upside Down.

While the show gained popularity as a nostalgic, fantasy-inspired action series complete with superpowers and a ragtag team of lovable underdogs, the fourth season takes on a much darker tone. While preserving the characteristics that made the show popular in the first place, director Shawn Levy introduces a shift that horror enthusiasts will enjoy. Levy makes many references to popular 1980s horror flicks, including “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Hellraiser.”

Darker aspects of this season include the main antagonist Vecna who targets victims in psychic realms by forcing them to relive traumatic episodes until he eventually destroys their physical bodies. Additionally, the monster — reminiscent of Freddy Krueger — introduces a psychological horror element to the season, bringing the lead characters a new and more sinister evil to fight. The combination of psychological horror with amped-up gore brings a fresh storyline to “Stranger Things” that revitalizes an already beloved series.

Despite the change in tone, Levy stays true to the series’ 1980s inspiration that offers satisfying tokens of nostalgia. The series spares no expense in reviving ‘80s culture in costuming, interior design and music. Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which blasts from Max’s cassette player in the first episode, even topped American charts after the season premiere. Detailed filming locations, such as a bustling neon skating rink and a Family Video franchise, bolster the show’s nostalgic charm. References to more serious political events also persist this season, with Joyce working to save Hopper from a Russian imprisonment camp.

Old and new cast members alike provide powerful performances this season, with Sadie Sink taking on a more central role. Sink plays a vital part in the season’s climax when Max faces off one-on-one with Vecna in the fourth episode, making for a powerful action scene and emotive showcase for the entire main cast. Moreover, new editions, including Joseph Quinn as the misunderstood Eddie Munson and Eduardo Franco as the lovable stoner Argyle, create a dynamic ensemble.

Provided with a $30 million budget per episode, the Duffer Brothers’ hit show proved its longevity by returning after three years with its most haunting and visually interesting season yet. Thankfully, fans will suffer a much shorter wait for “Stranger Things 4” volume two, which will premiere July 1.

5 grandfather clocks out of 5