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Stranger Things season 4 review – cinematic television at its best

Stranger Things season 4 takes the Netflix series to dizzying new heights, and could well be the best season of the hit show to date

Stranger Things season 4 review: Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things season 4

Our Verdict

Far from suffering from fatigue, it seems absence has made the heart grow fonder, as Stranger Things returns to top form, going bigger, bolder, and more brutal than ever before.

After close to three years away from our screens, the Netflix series Stranger Things has finally returned for its eagerly anticipated fourth season. Stranger Things season 4 certainly had its doubters ahead of its release date, but the sci-fi series is back with a bang, as the first seven episodes hit the streaming service.

Stranger Things is one of the most prized possessions at Netflix, but after six years of epic storytelling, it would be easy to assume that the TV series was at risk of running out of steam sooner or later. Quite simply, that is not the case. In fact, Stranger Things season 4 could well be the best season of the show yet, and it’s all thanks to the decision to really step up the stakes when it comes to the horror.

With terrifying new threats introduced, a more expansive exploration of Hawkins than ever before, and the sheer scale of each episode cranked up to eleven, Stranger Things season 4 is as close to cinema as you can get on a streaming platform.

Picking up six months after the events of the season three finale and the battle of the Starcourt Mall, Stranger Things season 4 sees our band of heroes well and truly divided. Eleven and the Byers family have started a new life in California, while Hopper is trapped in a top secret Russian prison.

Meanwhile, Max, Dustin, and the rest of the gang attempt to put the past behind them in Hawkins. That is easier said than done, though, as a formidable new foe emerges from the Upside Down, more deadly and mysterious than anything they’ve encountered before.

The long gap between seasons 3 and 4 does pose a few problems. For a start, all the kids are a lot older now, so from a practical standpoint, the six month time-jump just doesn’t quite cut it. That’s easy enough to get over though, and after a couple of episodes you don’t really notice it anymore.

The real issue lies in the first episode though, which has a hell of a job to do in terms of throwing the viewer back into the crazy world of Stranger Things. The Duffers are clearly hoping you remember enough about the previous seasons to understand what is going on and, more importantly, that you still care about the characters and their storylines.

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Episode one doesn’t quite manage to do all of this effectively, with far too much focus on high school drama and a tangle of narratives to manoeuvre between. This quickly changes though as the season develops, and we see the show really lean into the horror movie realm, and the kids of Hawkins get to do what they do best – investigate spooky shit!

As the attachment to these characters grows again, certain performers really start to stand out. The star of the show this season is Max (Sadie Sink). The young actor joined Stranger Things in season 2 as something of a supporting character, but in season 4 Sink is given the spotlight, and she absolutely makes the most of it. She is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast when it comes to delivering on the emotional moments, and is a truly captivating screen presence.

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Of course, the protagonist of Stranger Things has always been Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), but with her losing her superpowers at the end of season 3, her character has an uphill battle in more ways than one in season 4. For the first half of this season, Eleven is unfortunately side-lined a little, and it’s not until episode seven that her story really becomes engaging again.

On the villain front, the Duffer Brothers have outdone themselves this time around. In previous seasons we have had the Demogorgons and the Mind-Flayer, who terrorised the gang from the Upside Down, but Stranger Things desperately needed something fresh to keep its audience hooked.

In Vecna, a conscious, ruthless, humanoid creature, Stranger Things has delivered its best adversary to date, and with him, the show nails the horror elements. It’s dallied with scares before, and now goes full throttle as an episodic small screen horror movie. Vecna’s presence is terrifying, and brings a new level of peril for the town of Hawkins, plus his origin story is a fascinating one.

Contributing to the heightened atmosphere of dread is some impeccable sound design work throughout the season. This is most notable in the chiming of a grandfather clock which haunts Vecna’s victims, the spine-tingling sound of which will chill audiences to their very core. Alongside this, the music used in the show is typically fantastic, with Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ providing the perfect backdrop for one of the most intense and emotional sequences of the whole season.

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Much has been made of the incredibly long episode runtimes for this fourth season, with every episode coming in at over an hour. Admittedly, the length of these episodes can become a little overwhelming at times, and the bloated runtimes also leave the season open to a tendency of becoming convoluted, with narrative threads actually having too much time to meander and getting lost along the way.

The storyline concerning Hopper and Joyce never really gets going, and doesn’t bear enough significance on the wider plot. Will and Mike, too, key characters from previous seasons, fall by the wayside, with very little to do this time around. Of course, this could all change in the final two episodes that are set to arrive in season 4 part 2, but as it stands, they only serve to detract from the more exciting aspects of the show.

Stranger Things season 4 review: Steve, Dustin, Robin, Nancy, Max, and Lucas in Stranger Things season 4

We want to see Dustin, Max, Lucas, Steve, Nancy, and Robin playing detective Scooby-Doo style. We want to see Vecna mutilating teenagers, like a Freddy Krueger tribute act. We want to see more of Eleven’s backstory in the lab with Papa. We get plenty of these things in season 4 part 1, and the big finale on the horizon promises to go hard on all of this.

Indeed, episode 7 is a genuine game-changer for the sci-fi series as a whole. Eleven’s story doesn’t just become more exciting, it becomes pivotal once more to everything that has come before, and everything that is yet to come. It’s a riveting and shocking episode which showcases everything we love about Stranger Things, as all the narrative lines begin to cross and collide in enthralling fashion.

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Season 4 sees Stranger Things go bigger, bolder, and more brutal than ever before. Huge questions surrounding the legacy of the Upside Down and Eleven are answered along the way, with so many more questions still to be resolved as we head into the second part of the season in July. Far from suffering from fatigue, it seems absence has made the heart grow fonder, as Stranger Things returns to top form.