Rats, Russians and a repulsive sludge monster: Stranger Things 3, reviewed

After waiting almost two years for the return of the 80s sci-fi/horror Netflix hit Stranger Things, Alice Webb-Liddall binged the third season on Monday night, and still sobbing from the finale, reviewed the laughter, violence, and heartbreaking sadness.

Who would have thought that there was a place with more rats than Titirangi. Luckily for the residents of the west Auckland suburb, their rats aren’t eating fertiliser, exploding into globs of sludge and merging to form a 50ft tall, six limbed slimy monster. 

The 80s really is a bad decade for the residents of Hawkins, Indiana, and this only gets worse in season three of Stranger Things. Episode one opens into a Russian testing facility, where a machine is shooting a big ol’ laser at a wall, opening the gate between worlds that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) shut at the end of last season. There’s no question that’s a terrible idea, but it’s a perfect setup to the season, introducing the new enemy. 

Where previously the bad guy in Stranger Things has been various monsters and shadowy beings from the ‘Upside-Down’, the introduction of Russian enemies changes a lot about the show. For the first time there is a large group of actual humans who are the enemy, meaning an increase in person-on-person violence. There are scissors stabbings and kneecap dislocations, and one guy almost cuts another guy’s finger off with a cigar cutter. I am squeamish to the point of getting numb feet and falling over and watching this season I had to look away a lot for fear of never getting the feeling back in my toes. It’s a kind of violence the show hadn’t ever explored before and while the enemy change-up was great, I was not expecting so much gross bloody stuff.

Everyone’s favourite police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is a bit more of a loose unit this season, spiralling into fits of rage quite easily considering the level head he has usually maintained until now. He’s potentially problematic in his consistent badgering of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) for a date, which is so borderline creepy it’s been called out by actress Evan Rachel Wood on Twitter. But come the end of the season his character has been put through the wringer and if you like him you’ll probably be very invested in a fourth season for his arc.

I hoped there would be more Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), particularly grinning cheekily, particularly shirtless, after being introduced to his character last season. While the season does sort of centre around his character, he is not as endearingly hot, due to being more chaotic evil than neutral evil. His character development is a bit slow, but by the end of the season he becomes a lot more three-dimensional, and it definitely surprised me where he ended up, and what side he ended up playing for.

Queer theorists will love the storyline of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) this season, as one throwaway line from Mike (Finn Wolfhard), which doesn’t really get enough time to sink in, has some very obvious connotations. This season also introduces a new character named Robin (Maya Hawke), whose relationship with Hawkins High pretty-boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is charming and flirtatious and ends with a cool development for both characters.

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There is also a monster enemy – it’s not all down to the Russians to ruin the world – and I’d like to give some props to the sound engineers for making me feel a bit sick eating my black bean taco last night during a particularly sludgy scene. The monster is made out of the liquified remains of rats and people, it’s dripping with really gross juices, and can slime itself down into drains, so 10/10 terrifying.

A terminator-type man who seems invincible is one of the main antagonists, but honestly he was boring so I’ll only mention him briefly. The main problem was that he had no weaknesses – the man got his knee dislocated with a spanner and just got up and walked away. Get outta here with that. I’ll believe in sludge monsters but nobody could walk so painlessly with a popped kneecap.

Overall, Stranger Things 3 was exactly what I wanted from the show. It was hopeful, badass, surprising and left enough of a hint that, even though it hasn’t been announced yet, season four is going to be wild. The characters are a little bit more grown up now, but their dorky charm is still very much there and if I was sobbing at the end of this season, it obviously did what any show is meant to do – make me care about the characters enough to not want them to die.

Also: there’s a scene during the final credits, don’t skip it.


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