The preview screener of the first episode of the second season of Stranger Things comes with more paperwork than most Sydney property purchases, and a list of subjects which are on the spoiler list.
In truth, in 2017, spoilers are bad business anyway but it does mean that wading into this episode prior to its general release is a risky business given the ground is peppered with spoiler mines and there’s enough of a layer of cliche horror fog wafting around to keep every step uncertain.
The episode picks up on October 28, 1984 – roughly a year after the events of season one of Stranger Things – and you don’t need a calendar to know that we’re opening just a few days ahead of Halloween, in the narrative, and in real life.
As signalling goes, it’s not subtle, and the first hint that what is to follow will lean more on John Carpenter, the filmmaker who made the iconic Halloween in 1978, more than others in the multitude of influences which permeate every frame of Stranger Things.
If you have not seen the first season – and truly, if you have not, then what on earth are you doing here? – the rough summary goes something like this: in 1983, in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, an unseen force is unleashed and seemingly abducts an 12-year-old local boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp).
Will’s friends – Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) – set out to find him but instead find a girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), while his mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), receives a disturbing phone call from a voice which sounds like her sons.
Throw in a government conspiracy, a monster writ large from the pages of the Dungeons and Dragons “Monster Manual” and stir madly.
The second season steps up the pace gently, without losing its firm grip on the very specifically dated narrative speed of the first season. In that sense this plays a little like Mad Man: an intentionally anachronistic show using an intentionally dated sense of scene structure and dialogue speed to help you slip back into the groove.
At the same time it is unmistakeable that Stranger Things, born into uncertainty and the whim of an audience whose curiosity was piqued by a little show with no marketing spend, is returning a blockbuster. The action is dialled up, and there is a slew of additions to the cast, notably Paul Reiser and Sean Astin.
The heart of the show – a love letter to 1980s cinema and the auters who made it – is still there, beating loudly, though the sinister uncertainly and subcutaneous horror of John Carpenter’s work seems more front and centre this year than the cleaner, more universal style of, say, Spielberg’s E.T.
What is nice, though, is that Stranger Things begins as it means to go on: with an unnerving mystery wrapped up in a conundrum. Much of it is pure Macguffin though, as this particular buffet offers a raft of tonal and thematic side dishes which are in every way as delicious as the main course.