Many sacrifices will be made to save Hawkins, and the world.
Will and his friends look for the Mind Flayer. Nancy and Hopper uncover new info about Starcourt.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Six – The Monster”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” – click here
Now that Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) seems to be lost in The Upside Down, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is left to frantically search for her, their voices echoing across time and space. Soon, her hand emerges from the tree trunk where she gained access to The Upside Down, and he’s able to haul her back to their plane of existence.
Meanwhile, the gate to the other side closes in the tree. Does this happen each time a person goes there? Does it pack up and leave to find another hiding place?
Steve (Joe Keery) is out trying to see what Nancy’s up to. He discovers his supposed girlfriend sitting on her bed at home next to Jonathan, being comforted. Afterwards they have a sleepover, though Jonathan is a gentleman and rolls out a sleeping bag at the end of her bed. At the same time, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) are talking about what they know so far re: the U.S. Department of Energy. She knows her son wasn’t in the room Hopper found, as Will (Noah Schnapp) draws well. Now, they’re getting closer to discovering Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). “What if this whole time I‘ve been looking for Will I‘ve been chasing after some other kid?” Jim wonders out loud.
Everyone is left reeling at the moment. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is home, Eleven gone, and he trashes her little hideout. How’s a young boy meant to grieve for a friend at that age? Especially when he’s discovered some science fiction budding underneath the mystery of it all.
And Nancy, she likewise has trouble with what she’s seen with her own two eyes. She knows the Monster in The Upside Down is terrorising both Will and Barb somewhere out there.
The same woman that went to see Benny in his diner, apparently from Social Services, goes to see Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). She’s looking for children interested in AV-type stuff. Oh yeah? More to be paranoid about.
Mike feels bad for yelling at Eleven. He knows she was trying to protect them. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wants Mike to apologise to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and find Eleven. Then we get another flashback from Eleven, back when she was with her Papa, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine): “Today, we make contact,” he tells her. After her quick memory Eleven comes to in the woods, by herself. In a nearby lake she displays more of those psychic powers, screaming at the water and sending it in a wave.
Well, the successors to the Losers’ Club are trying to get back together. If only due to Dustin insisting on Mike and Lucas making amends. Mike compares them going up against The Demogorgon without Eleven to “R2D2 going against Darth Vader.” For the time being, Lucas says he’s finding Will on his own and heading to the gate.
More flashback. Eleven is taken to the sensory deprivation tank where she’ll head into The Upside Down, that deep, dark space. “I want you to find it,” Papa Brenner explains before she’s lowered inside. She keeps going from past to present, as currently she wanders through a grocery store looking for Eggo waffles. She uses her powers to walk out sans paying, but you can be sure there’ll be a police report filed.
And speaking of police, Chief Hopper goes to see Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), whose relationship with Dr. Brenner is a mystery. Not for long, I suspect. She was part of the MK-Ultra program and its crazy drugs. “The Man with a big capital M” did a number on her, as Terry’s sister Becky (Amy Seimetz) explains. Sensory deprivation. Expanding the mind’s boundaries. All that “hippy stuff.” Becky actually even references Stephen King. So what I wonder: is Eleven really Becky’s child? There’s no paper trail, but that means nothing. The Man would see to that.
Going “monster hunting” we see Jonathan and Nancy gather up a bunch of equipment, such as a gas can, .38 shells, a bear trap, other supplies. Not long later, Nancy finds someone spray painted graffiti about her being a slut on the local movie theatre. She actually catches Steve out back with his buddies, surveying the whole operation. Nancy doesn’t owe him anything, but they’re all more of a loser than Jonathan could ever be. It all ends up with Jonathan finally kicking the shit out of Steve, however, he also accidentally nails one of the deputies while taking a swing. Not. Good. Particularly for their monster hunt.
At least Joyce is with the Chief, so there’s no need look too far. Jonathan’s at the station for assaulting an officer, as Nancy struggles with wondering whether he’s in love with her. She doesn’t necessarily reject the idea.
Eleven eats Eggo waffles, uncooked, in the forest. Lucas continues no his search for Will coming up against the Dept. of Energy fence in the process. Simultaneously, Mike and Dustin look for her, and run into their bullies. Only the bullies have a knife this time. They catch Dustin, threatening him. They want an answer as to why Troy wet his pants. Without one, Mike has to jump into the lake in the quarry. Or else Dustin gets the rest of his baby teeth removed via blade. After Mike takes the plunge, he’s brought up by an unseen force. Nearby stands Eleven coming for her buddies.
Then Eleven flashes back to the darkness of The Upside Down, stuck in the sensory deprivation chamber. She sees the Monster from far off. It huddles, feeding on something. Eleven reaches out and touches the thing before it turns and screams at her, sending the girl into a frenzy and nearly destroying the place. Is this the moment which triggered this whole series of events? “The gate… I opened it,” Eleven confesses: “I‘m the Monster.” Yet Dustin and Mike are more happy to have there, as a friend. She is not the monster, just filled with guilt. And now their bond is even better. At that same moment, Dr. Brenner receives word from one of his minions. They’ve got the kids in their sights.
A wonderful episode bringing us closer to the end of Stranger Things Season 1. I cannot get enough of this one. I dig many shows, review/recap lots of episodes. But this is genuinely one of my favourite shows in the last few years, absolutely. Netflix has hit it big with this one, hopefully to continue with a Season 2, as well as more quality program overall for the network. The penultimate episode “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” is up next, promising more and more mystery alongside slices of horror, science fiction, and small town drama.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Alison Tatlock
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) has found his way to the U.S. Department of Energy, and he’s sneaked inside. He gets himself caught, though claims he’s been summoned by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). then he strong arms his way in further past the security doors.
At her place Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) drinks with her estranged husband Lonnie (Ross Partridge). She talks with him about what she believes has happened. Lonnie thinks it’s all in her head. He’s level headed, but just doesn’t know what she does, hasn’t yet experienced what she has, right in her own home.
In a creepy room, Hopper finds a stuffed lion, a bed, and a picture of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with her Papa drawn in stick figures. Meanwhile, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are discovering more through Eleven, that Will (Noah Schnapp) may be stuck in somewhere called “the Upside Down.” Similar to a place they’ve come to know through Dungeons and Dragons: “It is right next to you and you don‘t even see it,” explains Dustin. Right at that very moment Hopper is coming up right against the portal to that place, that living, breathing creature in the Dept. of Energy, growing on its wall. Before he can find anything more two people in the white decontamination suits grab him and plunge a needle into his neck.
When Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) comes home he isn’t happy to see his dad there. He’s also curious about the thing his mother saw come through the wall. He has a confrontation with Lonnie, he doesn’t want that deadbeat around. More so for the fact he knows there are strange things happening while Lonnie is trying to rush in like some drunk white knight. The next day everybody’s getting prepared for Will’s funeral, or a funeral for a stuffed dummy. Not that anyone else knows that. Although some are leaning more towards the truth than others. It’s just going to take another push for them to believe.
Joyce flashes back to watching Will draw a picture, asking about “Will the Wise” and his trusty fireballs. Sucked right into the world of magic we cut to Hopper. He’s home, passed out on the couch. He searches for a bug, somewhere, anywhere. Now, the paranoia is more than that: it’s real. Simultaneously, Dr. Brenner and his team monitor the calls, everything within Hawkins. They hear Will semi contacting his friends through the Walkie. Down at the school, some men go to check on the AV room and the boys’ ham radio.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan are trying to piece together mysteries themselves, so he goes ahead and lifts a gun from Lonnie’s glove compartment. He’s ready for anything.
During the funeral reception, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) fields questions on “Carl Sagan” and infinite parallel universes, et cetera. He starts to explain dimensions using the idea of an acrobat and a flea – there’s our episode title – and how the flea can travel different ways than the acrobat. Nice metaphor, I dig. He goes on to explain the idea of tearing a hole in time, a process needing massive amounts of energy. Ahh, we’ve got lots of connections.
Chief Jim gets a visit from his deputies. There are some possible missing people who were hunting out near Mirkwood. Everything’s getting stranger, more connected at the same time. Oh, and Barb’s car? It was found parked somewhere else than where Nancy Wheeler found it. So who moved it? I think we know the answer to that one.
At the Wheeler house, Dustin becomes aware there’s a magnetic disruption, as all the compasses are pointing directions other than True North. If they follow where the compasses are pointing North, then in theory they ought to find the “gate” into the Upside Down.
Mr. Clarke: “Science is neat. But I‘m afraid it‘s not very forgiving.”
Joyce discovers Lonnie’s only there to try and get a settlement over the death of their boy. Essentially, he blames Will dying on her. Piece of shit. “You‘re a mess,” he yells at her. But she does not back down. She will not lose faith in her son being alive, out there somewhere. Out in the woods, Jonathan and Nancy are practising their gun play, as well as bonding over their families, so on.
Worried for his safety, for whatever is happening, Jim calls his ex Diane. They talk a moment, and we can see how caring a man he is, despite what his past may hold.
Along the train tracks Mike and the boys head for wherever the compass points, leaning toward a magnet of massive power. Eleven flashes back to another experiment with Dr. Brenner, a.k.a Papa. She’s strapped to the electrodes once more and wearing some special type of body suit. They put her in a water tank. She’s submerged in a helmet, then closed inside. Out with her new friends, Eleven tells Mike to “turn back” with an anxious fear in her voice. She worries what lies ahead.
Nancy and Jonathan are also headed for wherever the gate or the monster may be. They argue a little over Steve, though Jonathan makes it obvious he does not like the vast majority of people. Furthermore, he doesn’t like the whole small town attitude so many, including Nancy, seem to have.
Hopper goes to Joyce’s place. She opens the door and notices he holds a sign: DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Inside, he wonders where the bug could be in the heap of lights she’s put up. He eventually clears the place, mostly. He tells her about the possible conspiracy, revealing that Will’s body is not actually his body; a fake. All her suspicions are now truths.
Out on their trek, Mike and the boys find they’ve looped in a circle. Then Eleven admits she messed up the compasses. She doesn’t want them to go back there: “It‘s not safe,” she tells them reluctantly. The gang are falling apart slightly. Lucas isn’t happy with Eleven and her meddling. When Mike and Lucas fight it sends Eleven into a frenzy, tossing him and knocking him out. She has more flash backs to the sensory deprivation tank where Brenner had her underwater. She finds herself in a black, dark space, as a Russian talks away. The words transmit back to Dr. Brenner and his associates. Then the man disappears, and something in the darkness begins to creep, making strange noises and sending Eleven running. Back with the boys, Lucas wakes up safe, a bit dazed. Though he leaves on his own. And Eleven, she’s gone, leaving Mike and Dustin on their own.
Amongst the quiet of the forest Nancy hears a noise. She and Jonathan head for it. There they find a dying deer. Before Jonathan can put the thing out of its misery, the carcass is hauled away into the trees by some unseen force. They follow a trail of blood to a hollowed out tree; a nice Pan’s Labyrinth homage, as Nancy crawls inside. She finds a terrifying space inhabited by the Monster we’ve seen before at Joyce’s house, the one that stalked Barb.
And at least for the time being Nancy is stuck in that other realm, as Jonathan’s left wondering where she’s gone.
What a great episode! Love them all, but the intrigue and mystery and suspense are pretty amazing through the course of this episode. The next chapter is called “Chapter Six – The Monster” and I’m anticipating a bit more horror.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Four – The Body”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Justin Doble
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) explaining they’ve found the body. Although she is not convinced, whatsoever. “One blink for yes, two for no,” she tells him about their little Christmas light Ouija wall. Only Hopper and her own son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) think she’s losing grip on reality. He has experience with his own daughter and grief. “This is different,” Joyce makes clear.
Upstairs, Jonathan retreats into the music of his headphones. But Joyce is determined to stand guard with an axe on the couch. Meanwhile the town of Hawkins is reeling, from Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) to their poor son Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who feels betrayed by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Then she tunes into a frequency on a Walkie Talkie where they hear Will (Noah Schnapp) sing some Clash lyrics.
Somewhere out there, beyond this plane of existence, Will lives. Not in body, but in spirit, in energy.
Mike makes a call to arms for his buddies. First he calls over the Walkie to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who’s mourning in his own way. They need to talk about Will, and Mike says “Screw his funeral.”
There’s some fishy business going on, as Hopper finds out the autopsy on Will was done by someone from the state, as opposed to their own people. As in that’s peculiar. Jonathan and Hopper talk about Joyce’s mental state, though neither of them yet realise the magnitude of what they’re dealing with here. The devastation of a dead child is one thing. The presence of something otherworldly, or supernatural, is another thing altogether. For her part, Joyce doesn’t believe the dead body in the morgue is her son. She refuses to believe he’s gone.
In other news, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) feels strange about her visit to Steve’s (Joe Keery) place the other day looking for Barb. She saw a creep. With no face? Yikes. But Steve is worried about getting busted for a party, showing his true colours to Nancy after all.
Jonathan: “While you‘re talking to the lights, the rest of us are having a funeral for Will.”
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas, and Mike are together in the Wheeler basement, Eleven, too. The charge for Will still being alive is led by young Mike, whose experience with the Walkie earlier makes him a believer. Will the boys and Eleven soon come to put their heads together with Joyce? I hope the writing leads us there. For the time being, Mike and the guys plan to get Eleven to their ham radio at school, so that she might use a stronger frequency to (hopefully) contact Will. Wherever he may be.
Up at the U.S. Department of Energy, someone named Shepard heads in to where the odd creature is attached to the wall. He reaches into it and grabs something. All the while, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) watches carefully. And then Shepard disappears inside the creature.
The local officers are interviewing Nancy, alongside her mother Karen, about Barb and her whereabouts, the party, her supposedly seeing something – or a man, with no face. The strange thing is that her car is suddenly missing, even though Nancy saw it the other day. Above all else Mrs. Wheeler isn’t happy to hear about her daughter and Steve falling into bed together. And on the opposite side Nancy is deadly worried for her friend Barb. A missing girl is getting wrapped up in typical family-teenager drama.
Hopper’s still worried about the autopsy situation, the strangeness up around the Dept. of Energy. He’s nearing closer and closer to finding out big things, I can feel it.
At the school, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) runs into Eleven – a.k.a Eleanor – and the boys. They explain her away as a Swedish second-cousin. Luckily, they also get the keys for the Audio Visual Room. Score.
When Nancy pieces together Jonathan’s torn photograph of Barb, she sees something else other than her friend. She sees a strange entity of some kind behind her.
At the Dept. of Energy, Dr. Brenner and the team finally reach Shepard inside the creature. He talks about being near a “rift” and that he can’t see much. “There‘s something else in here,” the voice over the speaker screams to Brenner, begging to be pulled out. When they do, only the bloody harness that once held Shepard remains.
In school, one of the bullies – Troy (Peyton Wich) – gets what’s coming to him after laughing during the assembly in Will’s honour. Eleven stops him from punching Mike, and then makes Troy wet himself. True justice.
Nancy talks to Jonathan, asking if he saw anything over at Steve’s place that night. She mentions a “weird man” there after going back. The little, strange pieces start adding together, as Jonathan combines Nancy’s story with that of his mother Joyce. Now there’s a bit of a connection, gradually.
Across a bar Hopper cosies up to a patron, buying drinks and reeling off fake stories about his daughter. It’s the State Trooper who found Will’s corpse. Hopper begins to crack at the guy, hoping to figure out what happened with the handover of the body to the government. He gets a bit of information. The Trooper reveals he wasn’t supposed to let anyone near the body. Why? Infectious? Definitely dangerous.
At home, Joyce blasts The Clash and hopes her son will talk to her again via the lights. At school, the boys get Eleven in to the AV room, though she starts having more flashes back to Brenner, the little room, electrodes on her head. We see more of the MK-Ultra element, a bit of astral projection of sorts, as Eleven is tasked with finding a man, listening to him. In the AV room, the boys hear strange noises over the ham radio, as Joyce hears similar ones in her house, through the wall. They each hear the same sounds, but there’s no telling where Will is trapped. He calls for his mother. When she tears through the wallpaper, it’s as if Will is stuck in a creepy space that’s “like home but it‘s dark” and looks similar to the belly of some great beast. “I will find you, but you have to run now,” Joyce assures her boy. Yet when she breaks through the wall, there is nothing.
When Jonathan helps Nancy with the picture of Barb, they also bond a little. He’s a people watcher because he would much rather look than interact, as people can be so cruel. Then they see a clearer image of the unsettling entity hovering above Barb, the monster. They become further convinced Will, and Barb, just might be living after all.
In the morgue, Hopper takes things to the next level. He punches his way in to where Will’s corpse lies in a freezer. He cuts into the boy only to discover the body cavity is filled with stuffing. OH. SHIT! WILL IS ALIVE. I REPEAT, WILL IS ACTUALLY ALIVE. FOR REAL.
In the middle of the night, Lonnie (Ross Partridge) shows up to find his wife distraught, not knowing where to turn. And Hopper, well, he’s got his eyes set on the U.S. Dept. of Energy, wire cutter in hand and ready to break in.
Wow. What a whopping episode. Intense, emotional at times, always full of intrigue. The next episode is “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” and I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am. Personally, I want to binge. But I’m savouring the episodes, hard as that is to do.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Jessica Mecklenburg
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
Poor Barb is off in some strange place, as an alien-monster stalks her. It’s the pool outside, but as if on another planet. All the while, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) hooks up with Steve (Joe Keery) inside. And the nerdy friend is not long for this world, it seems.
When Nancy wakes up in the early morning, everything has changed. She’s passed through that unwritten hurdle of high school, losing her virginity to somebody. At home, Nancy catches shit from her mom, though it isn’t as bad as it could have been.
The Byers house is still a war zone. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) finds his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) in Will’s (Noah Schnapp) room. She believes her son is connecting with her via the lights, after what she experienced in the previous episode. Of course that looks fucking insane. But there’s truth on the edge of coming out. It’s going to take something big for that to be palatable for others.
Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still in the care of Mike Wheeler (Finn Woflhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to figure out how to go about tackling whatever monster lies ahead of them. They’re at odds over what’s most important: weapons, food, or the powers harboured within Eleven. At least they’re doing a good job hiding her. For the time being.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is digging into the mystery surrounding everything going on re: Will’s disappearance. He’s getting closer to the military and whatever madness lies behind the gates of the U.S. Department of Energy.
We briefly see Eleven on her own in the Wheeler home. She flicks through the television’s channels, half amazed and, after a Coke commercial, half flashing back to being in a lab, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) monitors her on the opposite side of a window, waiting for her to use those telekinetic powers to crush a Coke can. A really great, brief scene that exemplifies the quality writing of the series.
At home, Joyce is stringing up Christmas lights, tons of them. She’s planning to try communicating further with Will. Or whoever/whatever is on the other side of the electricity.
Hopper tracks the tunnel they came across last episode to the other side of the gates at the Dept. of Energy. When he’s let inside briefly, Chief Jim quickly sees the operation that’s underway, cleaning up after… whatever happened there. He gets a brief look at some video, but there’s a clear idea that something is being hidden; Jim knows they’re lying.
The normal life of a teenager is seen through Eleven’s eyes. She looks over the Wheeler home, seeing Nancy’s pictures on the wall, the cute bed, the regular everyday girl stuff placed around the room. This is totally foreign to her; a little girl, but an extraordinary, tortured little one at that.
Nancy’s worried constantly about Barb. Although nobody else is too concerned, she knows there is something not right. A casual glance suggests she may see if Jonathan Byers has anything to say. At the same time he almost gets caught with the pictures he took outside of Steve’s place.
Our group of boys are wondering about where Eleven got her powers. They’ve also got to contend with the bullies at school. They do a good enough job, even if they’re picked on a nice deal, and badly. I can’t help wonder if maybe Eleven may help them get a bit of revenge eventually.
Hopper’s all over town trying to do more investigating, as well as contending with the one night stands left in his wake. Hilarious couple moments between him and a librarian he recently bedded. On microfiche, Hopper pours through anything he can find, for anything at all relevant.
Joyce gets a visit from Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono). While the two talk, Karen’s littlest daughter follows the lights that are turning on and off by themselves. Right into Will’s room where the lamps alternate on and off in a beautiful show for the tiny girl. Until they all go out. And she stands in front of the wall where Joyce had previously watched some eerie entity push its face through. A hand reaches out before Joyce interrupts.
There’s a lot of strange things happening, of course. Nancy still can’t locate Barb, even her mom doesn’t know. The vanishings are picking up.
Then we’ve got Jonathan, whose pictures from Steve’s place are found out by Steve and his gang. Naturally there’s a creep factor. Yet breaking the camera, treating the guy like a sex offender; not so sure he deserves that. Most of all Nancy finds a scrap of a picture with Barb in it and that peaks her curiosity.
Just after 3 PM, Eleven waits to meet Mike after school. She sees a cat near a fence that brings her to another flashback. In that room again, as Dr. Brenner watches on, she’s faced with a cat in a cage that we can assume she is meant to kill. When she refuses, Brenner – or “Papa” as Eleven screams to him – has her thrown in isolation. They’re trying to create a monster. And they do, to some extent. She kills the two men taking her to the locked room before Brenner confronts her gently. Almost as a father might: “Incredible,” he says to her in the quiet and carries her away in his arms. What a scene, what a moment! God. Damn. One of my favourite scenes yet. Because we’re getting a look into Brenner, but more importantly Eleven becomes more than some experiment, or whatever, she has a deeply painful backstory.
Mike and the boys show up for Eleven, then they’re off – to find adventure, to hopefully find Will. She asks why Mike has the cut on his chin, so he explains that some “mouth breathers” at school did it. They have a short moment of friendship that’s truly awesome. Their bond will be strong.
The lights are finally flickering for Joyce. When she slips into a crawl space in the living room with more of them in her hands, it appears as if Will is speaking to her through them, lighting them up. He tells her he’s alive. That he isn’t safe. Only their communication is stuck to one word answers, either yes or no. That prompts Joyce to paint the alphabet on her wall and use the lights as a massive Ouija board.
Nancy tells her mother about her worries re: Barb. Now there’s more hysteria about to strike Hawkins.
In the library, Hopper discovers a piece on Dr. Brenner, the MK-Ultra program. He starts to wonder if maybe Will was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and witnessed a cover-up-worthy accident, or who knows.
Eleven leads the boys to Will’s place. She says “hiding” but none of them believe it. Then the rush of police lights, an ambulance rushes by, and they head off to follow.
After Joyce has Will spell out where he is, he lights up RIGHT HERE. This distresses her, as he further spells out RUN, and the monster within the wall starts crawling out, literally, to face Joyce.
Hopper and the sirens head out to a body of water in the canyon. Everyone assumes it’s the body of Will. And it is. Mike and his buddies watch on, completely devastated. When Eleven can’t give him any answers Mike runs from them, home to his mother’s arms. Simultaneously, Joyce runs from her own home to find Jonathan in the road. Everyone is in need. Everybody’s hurting.
What a beautiful, amazing episode. A great chapter in an already perfect series that I’m loving. Next up is “Chapter Four – The Body” and I love that the Stephen Spielberg/Stephen King element is kicking in full force; sort of great that the next episode’s title links up to King slightly.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer
* For a review of the premiere, “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) have brought Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) back to the Wheeler basement. She’s obviously frightened, but they seem friendly to her. Each of them try to do their part, even if the only sensible one is Mike. They’re able to make her feel safe. At least for the time being. What we can clearly see is that Eleven is scared of closed spaces, she’d almost rather get changed with the boys standing nearby than be shut inside a room. So she leaves the bathroom door open slightly and gets out of her wet clothes. The boys try figuring things out. Lucas and Dustin are convinced she’s a mental asylum escapee. Hoping to keep it all under wraps, Mike lays out a plan. Later, Eleven shows off her tattoo, and Mike gives her his own nickname: “El, short for Eleven.” She warms a bit. Although when alone it’s clear something dark hovers over her. I’m assuming she was an experiment of sorts at the U.S. Department of Energy. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is still reeling after the disappearance of her son Will. Her oldest boy Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) holds her together like glue. After an all night search, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) lets the Byers’ know nothing came up. They show him the charred telephone receiver. He chalks it up to the storm, admitting it’s a bit “weird.” Yeah, weird. Fucking creepy, that’s what it is. Joyce continually tries to tell Hopper that Will called her last night. He won’t accept that. She makes mention of his daughter, a sore spot obviously.
With Eleven stashed away downstairs, Mike brings her Eggo waffles for breakfast and tries keeping the whole deal secret. He wants her to go outside, pretend to be a lost kid. But the girl isn’t into that plan. She knows what’ll happen if someone finds her. And Mike’s smart enough to know there is a story behind that. A couple gestures later, Eleven makes clear whoever’s coming for her will also take care of him. That’s an unnerving moment.
Listening to the various taps the U.S. Government has placed around Hawkins – whether before or after the incident at the Dept. of Energy, we’re not sure – Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) hears Joyce on the line talking about her boy to the chief’s office. I’m loving the mysteriousness of Brenner so far. Love Modine, can’t wait to see more of him and the character development.
Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) hangs around with assholes at school, but she isn’t one herself. She’s a good student, and despite most her clique she has kind words for Jonathan when she seems him putting up a HAVE YOU SEEN ME? poster for his little brother. People around the school seem to have an idea about who Jonathan is, and he isn’t left out of any teasing, no matter his age.
In class, Dustin and Lucas wonder about Mike, as he hasn’t shown up. He’s busy skipping off and taking care of Eleven, or at least trying to make her feel normal a while.
The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes on the radio while Jonathan drives. He flashes back to sitting in his room with Will. They take brief reprieve from a shitty home life. Well, a shitty family; their father seems like he was a deadbeat whereas Joyce does her best for them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brenner and other scientists in white gear go looking for god knows what. They do it over at the Byers house. Inside the shed, Brenner comes across heavy readings of whatever they’re tracking down.
One of my favourite moments is when Mike shows Eleven his toys. One of which is Yoda who can “move things with his mind” just like Eleven. The unknown coincidence to Mike is excellent. When she sees a picture of Mike and his gang, she recognises Will. When Mike’s parents get home he has to hide Eleven in the closet promising to come back for her soon. Being shut in does nothing for her mental state, though, and she has flash backs to Brenner – she shouts “Papa” at him, as men haul her away and toss her in a dark, locked room. The hits just keep on coming.
The search for Will continues on. Simultaneously, Chief Hopper gets called over to Benny’s Burgers. Uh oh. There they find Benny, posed as if he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
Doing his own thing Jonathan goes to his dad Lonnie’s (Ross Partridge) place to try finding Will. He’s not there, which we guessed. Lonnie isn’t especially helpful, nor is he that caring. The deadbeat in him is up front and centre.
When Lucas and Dustin find Mike still harbouring Eleven, he reveals that she knows Will. They ask her for more information. All Mike knows is there’s danger on the road ahead. When Lucas tries to go tell Mrs. Wheeler the powers in Eleven come out and play. “No” is all she says, slamming the door with her mind.
Hopper’s trying to unravel what went down with Benny. A man from the diner reveals a boy, he believes, tried stealing food from the kitchen. This makes the police believe it’s possible Will wandered in there. Only more to block the truth.
And finally, the search in the woods comes in contact with the U.S. Department of Energy after it looks like Will may have gotten near the facility. Hopper starts thinking he’s “cursed” as the last missing person in Hawkins was in 1923, the last suicide in 1961. Pretty unlucky, that’s for sure.
Eleven reveals to the boys that Will is hiding. From who? She explains it using Dungeons & Dragons pieces: The Demogorgon. Ahhhhhhhh shit.
In the forest, Jonathan takes pictures with his camera and looks for his little brother: “Where are you?” he mumbles to himself. Then a scream comes out of the trees. It’s only a party nearby, the one where Nancy ended up trying to be cool and popular. She shotguns beer and hangs best she can. In the trees Jonathan snaps shots of them in secret.
Joyce gets another call of just breathing, assuming it’s Will. Then “Mom” comes over the line. The electricity flickers, the noises again, and another telephone receiver gets burned. She can sense there’s something else at work. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes out blaring from radio speakers all of a sudden. A strange entity nearly bursts through the wall and this finally sends Joyce fleeing only to head back inside a short time later.
In Hawkins, there be monsters.
At the pool party, Nancy’s friend Barb sits alone by the pool. Then a darkness behind takes her away. Jonathan doesn’t know exactly what he’s seen, as if the lights went out and that’s it. But you can be sure this is going to lead into further interesting pathways for the various plots. I love the intricate nature of the story with so many things happening.
A great follow-up to the premiere. I’m already in love with Stranger Things. Solid all around, from acting to writing. To the beautifully filmed locations and scenes overall. Can’t wait for “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” to give us more mystery, suspense, and supernatural thrills reminiscent of everything from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. An eclectic mix of influences makes for wild television.
Black Swan. 2010. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Andrés Heinz, Mark Heyman, & John J. McLaughlin.
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, & Tina Sloan. Protozoa Pictures/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
There are filmmakers I cannot help but love. Darren Aronofsky wowed me first with Requiem for a Dream (later I saw Pi). Immediately, I found his style and willingness to explore tough stories something exciting. His style, no matter the subject, is psychological and worms its way to the core. It makes you feel connected, even if that’s an uncomfortable position in which to find yourself. Regardless, he is undeniably effective at getting to the heart of darkness, of struggle, of pain.
Black Swan is all style and all substance, mixed into a sinister dream of what goes in inside the head of an artist. Natalie Portman gives what may likely end up being the greatest, most defining performance of her career. I’ve always enjoyed her, though in this role she shines; physically and mentally. Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis each add their own wonderful elements to the cast, as does Vincent Cassel. A wonderful cast is one thing. Impeccably captured cinematography, beautiful choreographed dancing, solid writing to boot? This is what makes Aronofsky’s film unforgettable. You get to experience all sorts of wonders. There’s the dark heart of artistry, beyond what people see on the outside; all the pain and torturous psychological wear/tear behind the curtain. There’s the often scary, rocky transition from being a girl to becoming a woman, one which Nina (Portman) discovers unnervingly. Finally, this psychological descent in which Nina finds herself twirling becomes our own, as Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique draw us inside a terrifying headspace until coming out on the other side. Whether that’s in tact mentally, you be the judge.
One major element of why I find Aronofsky’s film so interesting, in an odd sense, is how he incorporates a quasi-body horror into the psychological journey of Nina. There are several key moments where fingers, toes, they get bloody and our mind is drawn to the strain on Nina’s body. Slowly, we begin to suspect there’s a dark fantasy portion to this story, and that things are becoming supernatural, as if Nina is literally transforming into a swan. So with the body horror, Aronofsky combines the psychological elements in there to make things surreal, blurring the thin line between reality and nightmares.
The psychological aspects further come out well through the use of doubles as a theme and mirrors or reflective surfaces. Nina’s character is all about expectations, personal or otherwise. She feels her mother (Barbara Hershey) bearing down, constantly. Her own mind is against her all the time, always asking for more just like dear ole mom. Then there are the expectations Nina perceives from the eyes watching her, dance instructor Leroy (Vincent Cassel), so on. All the reflections serve as a reminder that ballet, her dancing, they are a judgement on her physical qualities; how well she can dance, how thin is her body, how lean are her legs, et cetera. Moreover, the doubles Nina sees – one early on walks right past her under some scaffolding on the street, her face appearing visible briefly before it morphs back into some other unknown person – reflect the idea of being an artist as a sort of egotistical space, at times. It’s not a general statement. However, when it’s coupled with the obsession in the screenplay, this concept of artistry plays into Nina’s visions. Seeing those doubles, reflecting her face, these are points of narcissism. This leads slightly into further themes of the film. As Nina journeys from being a girl to a woman, she moves away from the narcissism and literally has to smash her identity to pieces, destroying the old narcissistic little girl and becoming a confident, more accomplished woman comfortable in her own skin, along with all its flaws. Up until the climactic moments of the script Nina sees her reflection everywhere. Even if nervously, all she can see is herself. Everywhere. In every thing, everyone. By the end, she’s decided this is enough, and along with the blood (a little bit symbolic in that part of it appears period-like), the smashed mirror represents a gateway to her life beyond girlhood.
Another major element to why Black Swan is so interesting has to do with this theme of womanhood, or even simply adulthood in general, and the passage one takes from being a child to being a genuine adult. But definitely the heavy element of female perspective is here, obviously. This is why when some people question the sex scene between Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis), I wonder if they understand that part of this entire story is the fact Nina is discovering herself, her sexuality, her power as a woman, every last little thing in between. So the sex scene represents that side of Nina wanting to explore, the repressed girl in her ready to see what womanhood is all about and open to discovering her own choices, and it didn’t happen. The fact is she has fallen into a fantasy world. Nina lives in a dream world, one afforded by her slightly crazy mother and perpetuated by her own act of allowing her infantilization. So it makes sense she’s diving headlong into a lesbian fantasy, one she’d never dare act out in real life because of her own repressed sensibilities and the overbearing presence of her mother. Problem is, her mind is so fractured – driven to mad lengths by her getting the role as Swan Queen – that she doesn’t realize this is only a dream she’s conjured up. And the awkward situation later when she believes it to be real, bringing it up to Lily is where we can truly see her disoriented reality.
With so much beautiful camera work, the mind bogglingly gorgeous dance choreography by Benjamin Millepied, the always intriguing direction of Darren Aronosfky, Black Swan was completely enthralling from the first time I saw it. Even now six years later as of this writing, I cannot get enough. The entire thing is this elaborate, dreamy tale. All the ballet and the dedicated dancing, that whole world, makes this a unique story we’re not often going to see. Certainly it’s reminiscent of the famous anime Perfect Blue, to which Aronofsky owns the rights, but there’s enough of his own elements to not make it one big rip-off. All around this is an astounding psychological horror/thriller, one that incorporates body horror, surrealism, among other things. No matter how you view it, Black Swan is a dangerous story about obsession, dedication, artistry, all wrapped into a kind of coming-of-age scenario about a girl finally becoming a woman after a long gestating period of being a child. By the time the credits roll you’ll either love it or hate it. But no doubt, you’ll find yourself reeled in, and the dark beauty of the film as a whole will take you away to some magical places. They might not be soft, sweet, rosy places. Yet magical nonetheless.
Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Tim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.”
What I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
Beetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
Totally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.