Archive for the ‘horror’ Category

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Annie (Toni Collette) struggles with the death of her mother, who became estranged from Annie’s life as she got older.  Annie’s daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) misses her grandmother and tries to bring her back through mystical incantations.  Charlie reluctantly agrees to go to a party with her brother, Peter. (Alex Wolff)   Charlie eats some cake and starts to choke, Peter in his rush to get her to the hospital, gets into an accident and kills Charlie.

Unable to cope with both her mother’s and daughter’s deaths, Annie goes to grief counselling sessions and meets a women named Joan. (Anne Dowd)  Joan says Annie can talk to her dead daughter by holding a séance.  Annie, desperate to deal with her grief, agrees to hold a séance with a family.  What happens at the séance?

Hereditary reminds me of another recent film I saw called A Quiet Place.  Both films examine the effect of a traumatic event on a family, one family in these movies is more dysfunctional than the other, and neither movie is all that frightening.  The writer of Hereditary can’t seem to decide on what direction to go, he leads the viewers in one direction, and then another direction, before finally settling on a course for the movie, which only serves to add to the confusion. Hereditary tries to turn up the fear with lots of scary music and fire, but for its climax, Hereditary relies on one of the most overused and hackneyed plot devices ever in the horror genre, the séance. There are other gimmicky polt devices in the film, that are annoying. The ending  seeks to tie up several loose ends, but only if the viewer pays close attention and in the end,  the story still lacks cohesion.

The acting is ok, just ok.  Toni Colette swings wildly from a person trying to cope with loss, to someone in full-fledged mania, that’s a little too much ground for even a good actor to cover.  Gabriel Byrne is wasted here, and his Irish accent is noticeable.  He doesn’t have much to do, but be a skeptic. Alex Wolff is given a difficult role, his character either has anxiety stacks or some kind of asthma, either way, he doesn’t get to do much besides abuse himself.  Young Milly Shapiro acts like a zombie for most of the movie, and make an annoying clucking noise with her mouth, she was told to act that way, no doubt.

The direction is full of visual flourishes, colors, and camera angles, a model of a house dissolving into a real house, but the pacing is very slow, and the direction of the kids is awful.  I’ve not seen Ari Aster’s other work, and I don’t want to at this point.

Heredity:  Toni is no tigress in this movie.

 

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a quiet place

On day 89 of a seeming invasion, the Abbot family is besieged by creatures who are rampaging the earth and killing millions of humans. The family’s young patriarch, Lee (John Krasinski) has studied the creatures, and found their Achilles Heel, but he needs to test his hypothesis out on his daughter Regan. (Millicent Simmonds)  Regan is going through some guilt, felt by the whole family, but more acutely by Regan.  Evelyn Abbot, (Emily Blunt) Lee’s wife, is pregnant, and her water has broken while Lee is away with his son, teaching him survival techniques.  Will Lee’s countermeasures against the creatures work?  Will he be able to gather his children and get back to his wife before the creatures do?

The problem with classifying A Quiet Place as a horror movie is this, it’s not scary.  It has elements of other sci fi movies, like scary looking creatures, straight out of Alien, tall corn fields like Children of The Corn, but in the end it’s not a scary film, at all.  Like the movies  It Follows or Goodnight Mommy, A Quiet Place gets a lot of hype for being a different kind of horror film, but it’s not a horror film at all, one can classify it as a character study of a family under great duress, but this is not a horror film.

It’s also a movie filled with plot holes. The movie opens on day 89, and there is no backstory of how these creatures got here, because explaining how they got here would involve telling the audience how non humanoid creatures with big,  sharp teeth are capable of interstellar travel, and that is problematic.   Is Lee Abbot the only man on earth to realize the creatures’ weakness, why can’t he exploit it sooner?

Then there are the little things that don’t quite make sense in a post-apocalyptic world. The movie shows the Abbots eating, what exactly are they eating after 90 days?  How long do batteries last in the post-apocalyptic world?  Why do they say grace?  Are the filmmakers appealing to a certain demographic?  Why are there birds in the sky and woodchucks on the ground on day 89? And the question that applies to all Hollywood films, where are the minorities?

There is a lot of emotional blackmail going on in this film, the audience is made to care, but their emotions are being ruthlessly manipulated.  Regan is deaf,   Evelyn is pregnant, the other kids are cute, so naturally the audience wants nothing to happen to this picture perfect family, and of  course things do happen, so the audience is manipulated throughout.

The acting is good.  Krasinski makes a good leading man, strong in the face of an otherworldly threat, vulnerable when he thinks this wife is in danger, he is the everyman hero, a little too flawless, but that’s got more to do with the writing than the acting.  Emily Blunt is more the damsel in distress and she’s also pregnant, and guilt ridden, which keeps her from defending herself for the most part.  The best acting is by Millicent Simmonds, who wordlessly conveys so much emotion with her face.  Happiness, sadness, anger, it’s all there on her expressive face.

The direction is competent, it does what it needs to do, tells a little about the family and moves the scenes along, the pacing is good, it is not overburdened with special effects, which is also good.  John Krzinski wrote and directed it, and had a hand in producing so it’s his movie.  But people shouldn’t give this movie a free pass because Blunt and Krasinski seem to be Hollywood’s new power couple.

A Quiet Place:  Monstrous plot holes obscure a good character study.

Stranger Things Season 2:

Posted: November 10, 2017 in horror, TV
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strangerthings 2

Chapter 1:  Madmax

Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is still having visions of the Upside Down, and he’s seeing a doctor, Dr. Owens (Raul Reiser) to talk about it. Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) is still worried about Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) but Joyce is dating Bob. (Sean Astin)   Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is still carrying a torch for Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) but she’s still dating Steve Harrrigan, (Joe Keely) and mourning Barb. Dustin Galen Materazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are smitten over the new girl in school, Max, (Sadie Sink  Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) has been searching for Eleven Millie Bobbie Brown) for a year with his walkie talkie, but can’t find her.  Where is she?

Most if not all of the characters are back from Season 1, and I find the show strangely addictive because I want to watch episode two, I didn’t think that the show or the characters were that memorable, but I guess they were.  I also want to see how the new characters fit in to the show as a whole. One of the new storylines widens the scope of the story to beyond Hawkins, Indiana.

Chapter 2: Trick Or Treat You Freak

It’s Halloween 1984, and Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas dress up as the Ghostbusters, and no one else is dressed up.  Dustin and Lucas ask Max to go trick or treating with them, and she doesn’t want to, until Billy (Dacre Montgomery) almost run the boys over with his Camaro.  Jonathan leaves Will with his friends to go to a teen party where Nancy and Steve are, and things do not go as planned for Nancy or Steve.  Mike is mad that Max is along, and takes Will home after Will has another vision, what is it a vison of?  Eleven is trying to find Mike psychically, but not having any luck. Dustin finds something in his trashcan, what is it?

This is another character driven episode, and the characters are getting more interesting.  There’s also some genuine scares in this episode, as the Duffer brothers turn up the suspense about what’s creeping in the darkness in Indiana.

Chapter 3:  The Pollywog:

Dustin gets a new pet.  Will gets a ride to school from Bob and some advice on how to face his fears. Eleven ventures out to try to meet Mike. Sheriff Hooper tries to get Dr. Owens that something strange isn’t coming from the lab, and destroying local pumpkin crops.  Joyce gets a clue about what’s bothering Will after watching a videotape of Halloween.  Nancy and Jonathan plan to meet with Barb’s mother.

Didn’t Justin see Gremlins?  Don’t feed the pets. The storylines are  getting more and more interesting and the relationships between Max, the boys and Eleven is also getting interesting. The suspense surrounding what Will sees is actually more scary than what he actually sees.  And each show seems to have a cliffhanger, which makes the viewer want to see the next episode.

 

Chapter 4: Will The Wise

Will undergoes physical and emotional changes after his latest vision of the Upside Down. Mike thnks Will has “true vision” but does he, and does that help the party figure out what’s going on in the Upside Down? Dustin’s new pet shows its true colors.  Nancy and Jonathan embark on a plan that goes beyond telling Barb’s mom the truth about Barb’s death.  Mike bans Max from their party.  Eleven throws a tantrum.  Sheriff Hopper has a revelation.

Will’s transformation is more interesting than what he’s actually seen in the Upside Down.  There’s still some mystery about what Jonathan and Nancy are doing, There’s a lot of mystery about Max and Billy.  Who are they really?  I have my theory, let’s see if it pans out.  There is also a mystery about what’s killing the pumpkins.  So there’s lots of intriguing things going on, but I don’t like what the writers have done to Eleven, she’s a petulant child who cries a lot.  The writers have taken the worst stereotypes for girls and combined them all into one girl.  They’ve also made Dustin extremely dumb, and he’s the one who knows the most about alternate dimensions, so it doesn’t make sense that he would be the gullible one.

Chapter 5: Dig Dug

Hopper gets in way over his head.  Nancy and Jonathan meet someone outside Hawkins to help them with their plan.  Eleven tries to meet someone from her past.  Joyce tries to find Hopper with help from Will and Mike.  Lucas tries to make up with Max.  Dustin forms an unlikely partnership with Steve.

I like that Joyce is actually getting the kids involved in looking for Hopper.  I don’t like the Eleven storyline at all, more crying and emotional upheaval.  I don’t think the Jonathan/Nancy storyline is going anywhere, It’s just an episode extender.  I don’t know where the Max/Lucas story is going, but I also have a theory on that, related to my other Max and Billy theory.

Chapter 6:  The Spy

Will is taken to the hospital.  He says his skin is burning, but there are no burn marks on his body.  Is it his psychic connection that’s making him feel things no one else is feeling? Steve and Dustin go hunting for Dustin’s pet. Jonathan and Nancy get sidetracked on their road trip.  Max and Lucas join Steve and Dustin in their search.

In an episode, Stranger Things has turned into a conventional horror flick.  A little teen and pre-teen romance to divert people’s attention, but it’s basically a garden variety horror flick.   The writers inexplicably have taken the best elements from last year, Eleven, and the government conspiracy, and put them on the shelf.

Chapter 7: The Lost Sister

Visions take Eleven to Chicago in search of someone else from Hawkins Lab.

Having done the horror genre, the writers try the revenge fantasy genre, and it lands with a thud. Even the writers realize this is a waste of time.  This is a total filler episode.  It tries to squeeze in a twist, but no one can tell if the twist is real or not. This is disappointing.  A show that had so much promise two episodes ago, is now circling the drain.  The mystery character was better as a mystery.  The bulk of the acting is done by Millie Bobbie Brown and another young actress.  Bad idea.

Chapter 8:  The Mind Flayer

Everyone is trapped in Hawkins Lab with the mire and more creatures that look like Dustin’s pet.  Meanwhile, Will is suffering as his visions manifest inside him.

I think the problem with these final episodes is that the writers revealed things too quickly, and now they are employing a deus ex machina ending because everyone else is helpless to stop the situation from spiraling out of control. This is pretty unimaginative writing.

Chapter 9:  The Gate

Eleven has to close the portal to the Upside Down before what is lurking there comes to the surface, there is something that has to happen first.  Will she be able to close the portal in time?

The ending is predictable, and again relies on Eleven as the deus ex machina to get the rest of Hawkins Indiana out of deep doo doo.

The show on the whole was disappointing on the whole, partly because it was so engaging and good for the first half of season 2 and then episode 6 happened and the bottom fell out.  It reminded me of so many movies and shows that it stopped being original.  There are parts that feel like Gremlins , Pacific Rim, Poltergiest, Jurassic Park, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek The Next Generation, The Host, and many others.  The writers changed the most important elements of the show, Eleven and the government conspiracy, change those two things and the show is just like any other show.

The teen characters were more engaging this time around.  I liked Jonathan and Nancy, the writers even made Steve more sympathetic, and give him a new rival, Billy.  Billy seems to have a giant chip on his shoulder and I’m not really sure why.  I like Maxine, but I don’t like what the writers did to Eleven/Jane, I liked season 1 Eleven much more.  The writers seemed to make Dustin a lot dumber than season 1, and Mike was given a smaller role, and Will was given a bigger role this season, that was a mistake.

I also think the writers were too quick to put these characters in romantic situations. Mike was pining for Eleven in many episodes, Dustin and Lucas became romantic rivals, and there’s already a love triangle between Steve, Nancy and Jonathan.  These budding romances are fillers for when the writers don’t have enough horror content.

Winona Rider and David Harbour were excellent.  Ryder played worried mom Joyce Byers to a tee, but she was also figuring things out, and that was a new dimension.  David Harbor plays Chief Hopper very well, he’s trying to balance the strange things going on, with an added responsibility.  Sean Astin was a fun character a nerdy guy who the kids really don’t like, who evolves later on. Paul Reiser was miscast, I don’t know if he was a hero, a villain, or comedy relief, he certainly didn’t have the intensity of Matthew Modine. Millie Bobby Brown was not as good this year as last,  that had a lot to do with the writing of her character. Dacre Montgomery plays Billy as a little bit of a psycho, and I really don’t  know why he was written the way he was. I like Sadie Sink, she had a good mix of comedy and drama in her role, and she played both well.

The plot was intriguing until episode six, in my opinion, and then it just became too derivative of other movies and shows and became a conventional horror show with monsters.  And of course there is going to be a season three, because portals to other dimensions have a habit of opening, just when everyone thinks everything is fine.  Besides Stranger Things is making a lot of money for Netflix.

Did I like Season 2 as much as Season One, in a word, no.  I thought Season two limped to the finish with a predictable and conventional ending.  Keeping Eleven apart from the party really hurt the second season. Dr. Owens is much less menacing than Dr. Bremmer and that hurts the second season as well.  Justice for Barb the hot new internet hashtag, was tacked on like an afterthought. Mad Max was supposed to be this take no prisoners girl from California, but the character turned out to be much less than meets the eye.  Let’s hope for better in season 3.

Stranger Things 2: After a good start, it goes to the demi-dogs.

life

A group of six astronauts from the international space station recover an alien species from a Mars probe, and try to bring it back to earth for further study. The single-celled organism, which the crew nicknames Calvin, lies dormant for a while, until one of the astronauts, Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) tries to bring the organism back to life, with electric shock.  The treatment works and the organism begins to grow, but will Hugh Derry and the rest of the crew regret their decision to bring this alien life form back to life?

This is a movie that tries to combine The Martian, Gravity, and the Aliens movies into one movie.  But it’s not as smart and funny as The Martian, it’s not as scary as any of the Aliens movies, and it’s very predictable.  The viewer knows what’s going to take place in this movie from the first minute of this movie to the last.  The movie tries to build some relationships early on in the film, but they don’t do enough character development to make the viewer care about any of these characters.  The scenes are also very redundant, the astronauts never seem to learn from their mistakes, while the alien is learning constantly. The science is junk science too, why should an alien creature respond to an electric shock to revive it?  Humans respond to electric shocks to stimulate their hearts but why should alien organisms react in the same way?  Also, later in the movie, the viewer learns that the alien needs oxygen to survive.  There is .1 percent of oxygen on Mars, how could it survive on Mars, if it needs oxygen to survive? The writers try to add a twist ending to the movie, but I had stopped caring long before this movie ended.

The acting is subpar, Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the best actor in the movie seems genuinely disinterested in giving his character any personality whatsoever.  He acts like he’s playing a supporting role through most of the movie, and when the lead role is thrust on him, it’s far too late to care. Ryan Reynolds plays the same fast-talking wise guy that he played in Deadpool.  Unfortunately, the snarkiness of this character does not play well as an astronaut.  Astronauts are serious people who need to know a lot of science or else very bad things happen.  Reynolds lack of seriousness in this role shows bad form, thankfully, it’s a small role.  Rebecca Ferguson is the poor-woman’s Emily Blunt, she also sleepwalks through the role.  Olga Dykhovichnaya  plays a generic Russian role, whose character is also a love interest for Ryan  Reynolds character. Aryon Bakare does his best Chiwetel Ejifor impression, but Bakare’s role is not as well-written as Ejiofor’s in The Martian.

The direction started off visually interesting, but soon devolved into special effects and explosions in typical Hollywood fashion.  The pacing is bad, and the director doesn’t get good performances out of his actors.  The director also did Safe House, which wasn’t that good of a thriller, and Child 44, which I have not seen.

Life:  Life-less.

get out

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black man dating a well-to-do white woman, Rose Armitage. (Allison Williams) This fact alone in post-Obama America shouldn’t be troublesome, but Chris is going to meet Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) a neurisurgeon and Missy (Catherine Keener) a psychologist  for the first time, so naturally, they are both a bit nervous about meeting her parents.  On their way to her parents’ house in the country a policeman pulls the two over, heightening the tension, but he lets them with a warning, thanks to Rose.  Chris meets Dean and Missy, the act somewhat oddly. Chris thinks they may be overcompensating for being “Obama liberals” but he undoubtedly gets a strange vibe from Rose’s brother, Jeremy, (Caleb Landry Jones) who  is always talking about Mixed Martial Arts, and Chris needing to bulk up. Chris also gets an uneasy feeling about the black people hired to help around the Armitage household.  But maybe living in the country has made them more laid back than the people he’s used to meeting. After talking to Chris on the phone, his friend Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howry) has a vastly different take on the situation.  His advice to Chris:  Get Out!

Get Out is not a horror movie per se, it’s more a psychological thriller.  Get Out is a thought-provoking movie that plays with the viewers’ minds.  Do Rose’s parents resent Chris for dating their daughter, despite their liberal leanings?  Does Chris feel guilty for dating outside his race?  Chris is also dealing with some baggage of his own that the viewer finds out about during the movie, and Rose has a secret that is also revealed.  Things are revealed gradually like pieces to a big puzzle, but when the puzzle comes together, it is a treat.  I could tell you what movies Get Out reminds me of, but that would give too much away.  It’s not easy to combine elements of suspense with social commentary and comedy, but Get Out does it all, pretty flawlessly.  If you haven’t seen this movie, you should see it.

The acting is great.  Daniel Kaluuya plays a normal guy in increasingly abnormal situations.  If this was a comedy, he would be the straight man. He notices some things that are off-putting, but he doesn’t really think anything is wrong, he’s still got a great girlfriend, if nothing else so he stays in the house.  Allison Williams plays his loving sometimes protective girlfriend, She will protect him during his stay if things get weird, won’t she?  Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are superb as typical upper class parents, the kind of parents any kid would be lucky to have, or would you?  The comedy relief is refreshingly provided by Lil Rel Howry, let’s just say he is the canary in the coal mine, and he is hilarious.

The direction by Jordan Peele, who also produced and wrote the film is pretty standard horror movie visual direction, closeups on the protagonist’s face, close-ups on the back of his head, while he is  walking down the stairs.  The protagonist is sometimes shot in the foreground, while unexplained things go on in the background.  It all sets a mood, which is not so much scary as it is creepy.  The pacing is excellent, it doesn’t get bogged down on any one point, and he gets excellent performances from a talented cast.  I just wish this movie had come out before Keanu, which was about as funny as a migraine.  This movie displays Jordan Peele’s true range of talents.

Get Out.  Outstanding.

Movie Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Posted: December 9, 2016 in Action, horror

dont-breathe

Small-time burglars Money, (Daniel Zovatto) Alex, (Dylan Minette) and Rocky (Jane Levy) are tired of small robberies.  They hear about a man who got a six-figure settlement after his daughter was killed.  Rocky has a dream to steal the money and leave Detroit for good with her daughter, Diddy. (Emma Bercovici)While casing the house, they realize the man is blind.  Alex has second thoughts, but decides to go along with Money and Rocky.  The trio breaks in, but The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) finds out that Money is in the house.  They struggle, what happens next?  And what happens to Alex and Rocky?

Don’t Breathe tries to manipulate the viewer in several ways.  The kids are poor, one is a single mother, they are “clean cut,” they could be anyone’s kids, so they should get some sympathy.  The “victim” is an old, blind man, seemingly defenseless from the teens, so he should get some sympathy.  The problem with the script is that neither the kids nor the blind man is worth pitying and all of them seem damn near indestructible, an old horror movie trick.  The plot also seems to run out of steam pretty quickly, and the viewer gets a tour of every room in the blind man’s house, which is just another excuse for more mindless violence.  And when the writers get sick of gunplay and beatings, the script takes an uglier turn.    What’s the moral of the story?  Don’t give a blind man a gun. The real crime here is that this movie was made for 9 million dollars and grossed 89 million, which means the director will get a lot more work

The direction is interesting visually, there are shots in allies and in-between buildings, and all kinds of interesting angles, and they succeed in making Detroit look like a foreboding place, but the pacing was slow, it took forever to get to the end of a 90 minute movie. I don’t know if the performances were good or not, because there was such little dialogue.  Were these actors being paid by the word? Sam Raimi is the producer here, but its scares on a budget. But Raimi knows his way around a low budget horror flick.  He produced Evil Dead on a low budget with the same writers and director.

Don’t Breathe:  Don’t Waste Your Breath.

strangerthings

Chapter 1:  The Vanishing of Will Byers

In 1983, in Hawkins Indiana, scientists are working on something top secret in the Hawkins National Laboratory, which is part of the Energy Department.  A boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears after playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair. (Caleb McLaughlin) Will’s mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder) reports Will missing to the local Sheriff, Jim Hopper. (David Harbour)

A mysterious mute girl, named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) walks into a diner wearing a hospital gown, and the diner’s owner, Benny Hammond (Chris Sullivan) takes sympathy on her. Popular high school boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) starts dating bookish Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) Where is Will?  Does his disappearance have anything to do with the experiments at the Hawkins Lab?  Who is Eleven, why is she mute?

This show reminds me a lot of early Speilberg, Close Encounters, Goonies, or the JJ Abrams movie Super 8.  There’s an abduction and kids are trying to figure out what happened before the adults do. Whoever the Duffer Brothers are, they must have watched a lot of Speilberg growing up.  Good comeback role for Winona Ryder, de-emphasizing her looks, playing a small town mom.  I like it, so far, it’s very suspenseful, with the right amount of strangeness.

Chapter 2:  The Weirdo on Maple Street

While looking for Will Mike, Lucas, and Dustin find Eleven in the woods.  Mike takes her back to his house, she seems to know Will, but where did she see him?  While looking for Will, Hopper finds Bennie, dead, and concludes that it is suicide, is it? Nancy goes to a party with Steve, while friend Barbara (Shannon Purser) tries to play chaperone. But then Barbara disappears.  Where did she go?

I still like the twin mysteries and the music fits in perfectly, in this episode it’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash.  But there are several dumb sci-fi/horror movie redundancies which are rearing their ugly heads.   Government conspiracies, pre-teen kids smarter than parents, teen kids dumber than anyone, smart girl looks frumpy, mom of missing kid looks crazy, those are such worn out clichés that I can’t stand the sight of them anymore.

Chapter 3 Holly Jolly:

Nancy realizes that Barb is missing, and fears she might be dead.  Mike continues to look for Will, with the help of Eleven, who has flashbacks to her life before she met Mike.  Is Will communicating with Joyce? Does Hopper find Will?

After three episodes, the writing on this show is grating on me. Suddenly it seems like a badly written episode of the X Files.  The characters are horrible representations of high school and grade school kids.  Nancy is more concerned with her social life than looking after her best friend’s welfare.  Steve is a popular jerk, Hopper is a jerk too, the only likeable ones are Mike, Eleven, and Dustin. For some reason the writers made Lucas a wiseass, and Jonathan, Will’s brother seems like a weird creeper.  The writers seem to forget, that for a show to succeed, the viewer has to like most of the characters.  I’m starting not to care about this collection of creeps and oddballs.

Chapter 4:  The Body

Joyce is convinced that the body the police found is not Will’s.  Jonathan and Nancy team up to try to find Barbara. Can Eleven communicate with Will?  Mike seems to think so.  Dr. Bremmer (Matthew Modine) continues his experiments at the Hawkins lab.  Hopper gets some unsatisfactory answers from the trooper who found Will’s body, so he breaks into the autopsy room, and gets a look at the body.  What does he find?

This episode answers the cliffhanger from episode 3.  The viewer finally sees what’s going on at the Lab.  Nancy and Jonathan team up?  Is that good news or bad news for Nancy?  There’s not a whole lot to choose from for teen girls in Hawkins Indiana, that’s eminently clear. Whose bright idea was it to write that teenage boys had to make Eleven look more girly? Put her in a pink dress and a blonde wig?  Some chauvinist wrote that for sure.  This show also has hints of Poltergeist and Pacific Rim woven in, but the homages age getting to be a bit much.

Chapter 5:  The Flea and The Acrobat

Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven think they know where Will is, and they’re off to find him.  Hopper tells Joyce what he found at the morgue. Jonathan and Nancy are off to find whatever Jonathan photographed in his pictures, but then Nancy disappears.  Where did she go? And after a fight with Lucas, Eleven disappears.  Where did she go?

This is probably the best episode since the first episode, Nancy is still annoying, and Jonathan is still strange, Steve is still a jerk, but they’re all looking for the same thing.   And finally Hopper and Joyce are on the same page.  And there are still some mysteries to be resolved.

Chapter 6:  The Monster

Dustin and Lucas go to find Eleven while Lucas tries to find Will, and finds the Lab instead.  Hopper and Joyce search for Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins) whose daughter Jane has been missing for 12 years.  Terry is in a drugged stupor, but her sister Becky (Amy Steinmetz) tells Hopper and Joyce about the experiments at Hawkins Lab. Jonathan and Steve fight over Nancy, and Jonathan gets arrested.  Dr. Bremmer starts to look for Eleven.

Even though the middle episodes were kind of bad, the last two episodes have really hooked me. There are references to Carrie and Altered States in this episode.  The kids bullying Mike plotline is getting old, and Steve is still a jerk, and Lucas is really badly written, but I really want to see how this season turns out.

Chapter 7:  The Bathtub

Joyce and Hopper help Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven hide from Dr. Bremmer and the government officials chasing after Eleven.  Steve confronts Tommy and Carol and goes to find Nancy.  Nancy and Jonathan try to find whatever was in Jonathan’s photograph.  Eleven tries to find Will. Does she succeed?

The episode is mostly good, things are coming to a head between those trying to find out what happened to Will and Barbara, and those trying to cover it up?  Who will prevail?  One of the few missteps here is the writers tried to make Steve sound heroic.  After being a jerk for the most part of 6 episodes, it’s a little late for that.  Also, Barbara is treated like an afterthought, that’s not right.  The rest of the episode was pretty good.

Chapter 8:  The Upside Down

Joyce and Hopper try to find Will.  Jonathan and Nancy try to hunt down whatever Jonathan photographed, they are joined by Steve.  Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven are hiding out in the middle school gym, with Dr. Bremmer in hot pursuit.

The finale did what the finale does, it wraps thing up.  I can’t say that I was surprised by anything that happened, I didn’t really care for the any of the Steve, Jonathan Nancy, characters but it seems like the writers want to create a love triangle between the 3, to waste time in season two.  Of course, like all horror movies, the writers hinted at what would happen in a second season.

Overall, it was a pretty good series, but it left a lot more questions unanswered.  It also made a lot of references to 1980’s movies,  ET, Goonies, Poltergeist, Altered States, Alien, Stand By Me, Carrie, and even current movies like Super 8 and Pacific Rim.  And there are lots of references to Dungeons and Dragons.  This show was supposed to be set in 1983, but the look reminded of early 1970’s that was obviously a choice made by the director.  There was one mention of Atari, Atari was huge in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  MTV was huge in the early 80’s and no mention of MTV, I understand there are agreements that have to be signed to mention things in movies, but for a show that used music so well to set the mood, not to mention MTV, when MTV was ubiquitous in the 1980’s, seems a little odd.

There was also a little too much overreliance on bullying, it seemed that whenever the writers needed some plot filler, bullies would show up out of nowhere, and the teen bullies would attack Nancy, or Barbara, and fill up some more plotline.  And Eleven was used too much as a deus ex  machina, whenever the kids got in trouble.  Ironically it was the pre-teen kids roles who were the best written, I really liked Mike and Dustin, and Eleven.  Lucas could have been more compassionate at the start, but someone had to be the skeptic, and Lucas was that character.

The acting is better than the writing in some instances.  I thought Winona Ryder overplayed her role at first, but then either I got used to her or she toned it down.  I liked her performance.  I thought the opposite of  Matthew Modine’s performance, he totally underplayed the Dr. Bremmer role.  He was so calm, he was almost sedated, it was hard for me to dislike him, and he’s supposed to be an antagonist.

I really liked Finn Wofhard as Mike.  He played the sensitive friend of the three and was really convincing on that role, he always looked out for his friends, and tried to make his friendship with Lucas work.  His relationship with Eleven was sweet. He pulled off the awkwardness of a first relationship very well. Gaten Matarazzo was excellent as the nerdy science kid, it could have been a really stereotypical role, but Matarazzo made Dustin funny, and an all-around good guy.  Caleb McLaughlin played a tough role pretty well, so he must be a pretty good young actor.  Millie Bobby Brown did the best acting job of all, she displayed a lot of emotions with not so many words.  She has really expressive eyes and she expresses a lot of hurt with those eyes. I don’t know if the teens were badly written or just bad actors, I couldn’t tell.

The direction was pretty good, the pacing was good and brisk on each episode, they got pretty good performances from the “stars” and most of the kids, there was nice interplay between the music and the scenes following the music, they telegraphed whatever Jonathan photographed at Steve’s party with appropriate music and sound effects.

Should you watch it?  It starts well, there’s two or three clunky episodes in the middle, but it finishes strong, so yes, I think it’s worth a watch.  It’s not as good as the buzz and the critics say, but it’s not as bad as I thought it might be.  The good outweighs the bad for sure.

Stranger Things:  Stranger Danger