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Stranger Things: All-Encompassing Season 4 Review

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Warning: Stranger Things 4 Spoilers ahead.

With record-length episode runtimes, 13 Emmy nominations, and at least five records broken at Netflix, the success of the fourth season of Stranger Things is undeniable.

Picking up less than a year after season three left off, season four starts with the group separated. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Byers family now live in California, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is being held prisoner in Russia, and the rest remain in Hawkins.

While the show would eventually see forces coming together, this would not be until after Eleven is subjected to more lab experimentation, and the Hawkins group goes head-to-head with the series’ most formidable bad guy yet, Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). In a race to stop Max (Sadie Sink) from becoming Vecna’s next victim, the Stranger Things friends find that the situation is much more harrowing than they ever anticipated.

With the expert implementation of memorable sounds, compelling characters, and gut-wrenching presentations of love and horror, Stranger Things may be one of the best seasons yet. ’86 baby.

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Sounds of the Season

Stranger Things did not hold back when it came to creating earworms for season four. From the return of classic hits to character quotes and unusual captions, ST4 is packed with auditory stimulation.

Reviving Classics

Max’s song that protected her from Vecna, Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill”, is the undisputed anthem of the season.

Its impact on viewers can be measured by the chart-topping status it has held ever since the fourth season premiered on Netflix. Kate Bush is not the only artist to enjoy their songs being introduced to the upcoming generations, as Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is gracing charts as well.

Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) playing a Metallica song for “the most metal concert in the history of the world” is especially fitting, seeing as how the real person he is based upon is a notorious Metallica fan.

“Separate Worlds (Worlds Apart)” by Journey has also seen rejuvenation from the show, as it was not only played in the first trailer release but also played as the core group readied themselves for the final battle.

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While not as much of a successful stand-out as the other songs in this list, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” served as a haunting theme for the Creel house.

Quotes

Outside of the memorable music played in the season, many quotes from the characters have become instant favorites. Quotes from Eddie Munson tend to be the most popular, so much so that the dialogue between Eddie and Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) was remixed into a viral music beat titled “Chrissy Wake Up”.

But it’s not just the Hellfire Club leader that had instantly classic lines this season.

Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) explanation about who pauses Fast Times at Ridgemont High at 53 minutes and 5 seconds or series newcomer Argyle’s (Eduardo Franco) motto for pineapple on pizza: “Try before you deny” are immediately identifiable, along with countless others from the spectacularly written season.

Stranger Captions

As anyone who has watched the season with captions on will attest, sounds that aren’t physically heard can still be memorable. The sounds of Vecna’s “ichorous” tentacles were never left to the imagination, as they could be found slithering, constricting, “squelching wetly” or, my personal favorite, “undulating moistly.”

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There is also a variety of “stingers” ranging from ominous, to dramatic, discomforting, and horrific. Don’t worry though, as some “hokey muzak” plays, breaking up some of the tension.

Stranger Things Characters

While the cinematography and storyline are fantastic, the characters truly make the show.

Introducing New Faces

This season had its share of brand-new characters to root for or against.

New Friends

Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) stoner friend Argyle was instantly a fan favorite, and the adoration of Eddie Munson is already legendary. So much so that fans have started a petition to bring him back to the show, which as of this writing has over 73,000 signatures.

These two were not the only new companions that were instant favorites. Fans quickly loved Hopper’s Soviet comrade Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), who helped Hopper plan his jailbreak.

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Then, the introduction of “The Peanut Butter Smuggler” Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) brought about comedic moments in an otherwise tense season. Who could forget the scene with his untouched helicopter named after Katinka?

Though given his traitorous self-interest, Yuri played more of a pseudo-villain than a friend this season, and he was far from the only one.

Pseudo Villains

Although she only appeared in 3 episodes, Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) did an excellent job at making everyone simultaneously hate her character. Orkin’s portrayal of the popular mean girl was so phenomenal that it was all the more satisfying when Angela finally got her comeuppance by way of a roller skate to the forehead.

Mason Dye, who played Jason, also put on an excellent portrayal of a hated character, as his downward spiral and popular boy attitude were executed gracefully. While being ripped in half by an emerging gate to the Upside Down was his fate, frankly, it didn’t feel good enough.

After beating Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) to a pulp, smashing the headset that could’ve saved Max, single-handedly preventing Lucas from saving her from Vecna, stirring up a Satanic Panic in Hawkins, and not to mention allowing Vecna his fourth kill that ripped Hawkins, Indiana in half in the first place…it would’ve been nice if he had been smacked in the forehead with a roller skate too, and then ripped in half.

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(Violence isn’t the answer kids. It just makes for satisfying bad guy conclusions on television shows.)

Of course, mini villains Angela and Jason pale starkly in comparison when it comes to the real villain of the season.

Henry/Vecna/One

Jamie Campbell Bower’s transformation from the caring orderly to the ruthless villain was flawless. While Horror Press readers may have known that Vecna was going to have a human origin even before the season aired, few viewers saw it coming that the helpful orderly who cared for Eleven was the main antagonist all along. The Vecna identity reveal was one of the best moments of the season, which says a lot for a season so gripping and powerful.

Furthermore, Stranger Things’ resolve to have a villain created with practical effects rather than CGI was an excellent call, as Vecna’s face is already solidified amongst the haunting faces in horror. Although, Vecna’s body shots are taken a little less seriously as viewers have likened him to a skinned Grinch. Whether he has ever truly lived at the top of Mount Crumpit aside, no one can deny the terrifying nature of his presence, nor the shocking, eye-popping way in which he kills.

After all, his body count is staggering. Not only did he murder his mother and sister, not only did he decimate an entire lab full of psychic children, not only did he cause the brutal deaths of Chrissy Cunningham, Patrick (Myles Truitt), and Fred Benson (Logan Riley Bruner), and the probable brain death of Max, but season four brought about the startling revelation that One created the Mind Flayer.

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That means all the Hawkins residents who got turned into Mind Flayer mush in season 3, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), and all of those that got killed at the demodog coup at Hawkins Lab in season 2, including Bob Newby (Sean Astin), are all dead because of Vecna.

This of course does not even consider how many died from the ripping of Hawkins, nor how many will die before season five ends the series.

Honorable Mention

Although brief, one would be remiss not to include the appearance of horror legend Robert Englund as the wrongfully imprisoned, father of Henry/Vecna/One: Victor Creel. It is especially fitting that Englund would appear this season as the similarities to Nightmare on Elm Street are enormous.

Old Characters do New Tricks

ST4 saw dynamic characters as old favorites and demonstrated that there is more to them than we’ve seen.

Whether it was finding out that Murray (Brett Gelman) is a karate fighting badass, seeing Erica Sinclair in all of her nerd glory playing D&D, a Hopper that got ripped, a pothead Jonathan (although his character was more or less the same), Eleven trying to assimilate into school life with no powers, Max struggling with depression, Lucas as a popular kid, or Will subtly professing his love for Mike, season four presented these familiar characters in fresh ways.

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Old Characters do Old Tricks

While some characters trod new territory, others followed their typical character paths. For example, Steve Harrington is still the honorary den mother, who is desperately seeking love, and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is still oblivious when it comes to matters of the heart.

Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) is a genius who unwittingly helps to save the day, and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) will still stop at nothing to save the person she loves (we can say at this point that she loves Hop, can’t we?).

While fresh takes are welcome and most times necessary, most of these characters’ greatness is ingrained by these familiar characteristics.

Love & Fear

If anyone remembers the presentation given by Beth Grant and Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko, they’ll remember that “fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.”

If that’s the case, ST4 played on our deepest emotions as the presentations of love and fear were extraordinarily powerful and sometimes simultaneous.

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Horror Comes to Hawkins

While the prior seasons had their share of haunting imagery (e.g., Will Byers’ autopsy, the imposing size of the smoke Mind Flayer, or people seizing into piles of human goo), the seasons of Stranger Things as a whole never felt truly scary…until now. The fourth season of the hit show wasted no time letting viewers know this season would be no walk in the park, as it opened with a mass genocide of psychic children.

If viewers had any doubts about what they were in for, Stranger Things then ended the first episode with the most horrific murder yet. Viewers were left shocked as Chrissy Cunningham floated off the ground and had her limbs snapped one by one. We don’t like this either, Eddie.

Just kidding, we loved it. Although Chrissy Cunningham would have made a compelling character for the series, and she had natural chemistry with Eddie Munson, her gruesome death served as a road sign for the season. This is the moment that told us all to buckle up, we’re in for a bumpy ride through Hawkins.

Of course, the horror didn’t stop there, as gruesome hallucinations from spiders to cradles on fire ensure nightmares for everyone. Perhaps the most chilling of all the hallucinations brought about by Vecna, lie within the first few moments of his trance, as characters do not realize at first that they are hallucinating.

This act is most terrifying, as it suggests that the world in which they think they are existing in is not the world they think it is at all. This kind of reality-bending, mind-twisting horror is by far the scariest.

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Though gore had its place in this season too. Steve’s bloody bat wounds, Victor Creel’s gouged-out eyes, One being ripped apart by lightning, and a ripped-in-half basketball player are some of the visual depictions of horror brought about by this jaw-dropping season.

Stranger Things: Love and Ships

Fear’s antithesis played a driving force in much of the season.

Max

Since Max played a large role, it makes sense to see her involvement with love manifested in all different ways.

Lucas & Max

In its most obvious form exists the love that Lucas and Max have for each other. Lucas realized before anyone that something was wrong with Max when her Vecna-induced headaches first began.

It was Lucas’ words that rang the loudest when Max was able to escape from Vecna for the first time: “I don’t need a letter […] I’m right here.”

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It is together that they awaited Vecna to fall into Max’s trap, it was Lucas that Max seemingly spoke her last words to, and it is by her bedside that Lucas waits patiently for her to return.

Easter Egg Alert: Lucas read The Talisman to Max as she lay in her post-Vecna coma. This story by Stephen King has been picked up by the Duffer Bros and is poised to become a future Netflix series.

Love Between Friends

When in the throes of a Vecna attack, it wasn’t just memories of Lucas that saved her from the negative thoughts that Vecna would prey upon. Max flashed back to many good times with her group of friends, and Eleven especially.

This love between friends is reciprocated as Eleven goes to great lengths to stay by Max’s side and try to save her from the Upside Down’s five-star general.

These powerful displays of friendship in the face of an evil that feeds upon trauma serve as a fantastic metaphor for the overwhelming benefit of having friends on your side when going through hard times.

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Mileven and Byler

The relationship between Mike and Eleven has been a subject of the series from the very beginning. In the final moments of Eleven’s battle with Vecna, when all hope seemed lost, Mike opened his heart to Eleven, and hearing confirmation of his love for her helped her to grow strong enough to save the day.

While it would be more enjoyable to see Eleven empower herself, the scene was powerful, nonetheless.

It was doubly powerful because Will was the one who encouraged Mike to inspire Eleven with his love. He urged Mike on, calling back to the previous conversation that the two had.

In that conversation, it was heavily implied that Will has strong feelings for Mike. Mike, who is historically oblivious to nuanced matters of the heart, remained oblivious.

The scene, along with Noah Schnapp confirming that Will is indeed gay and in love with Mike, has a preponderance of fans rooting for the two to end up together.

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This all calls into question what end can become of this triangle and if this doesn’t mean a tragic finale for at least one involved.

Steve, Nancy, Jonathan, Robin, and… Vecna?

Love was on the minds and motivations of many of the characters. As Eddie Munson had explained to Steve, the way that Nancy had rushed to save him with no hesitation “was as unambiguous a sign of true love as these cynical eyes have ever seen.”

Steve is always looking for love and has kept his interest in Nancy no secret from day one. This is complicated as Nancy and Jonathan are still together, and even more complicated given that their relationship seems to be on the rocks. Undoubtedly this love triangle will be a plot point in Stranger Things season five.

However, if left up to the cast members to decide, Nancy would end up with someone else entirely, as the three cast members who act the roles of this love triangle reportedly have a text thread with Maya Hawke where they share memes that ship Ronance (Robin and Nancy).

If that coupling was unexpected, allow me to introduce you to the section of the internet that wants to see Nancy end up with Vecna (Vecnancy).

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Before mental images start to form, back to Robin, who, like Steve, is also pining for love this season, though not for Nancy. While she appears to have chemistry with Vickie (Amybeth McNulty), Robin is understandably concerned about expressing her feelings to the wrong girl in this close-minded, Satanic Panic-fueled town. Here’s hoping she and Steve can finally find love in the future.

Eddie and Dustin

While Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery) share fantastic on and off-screen chemistry, making their friendship one of the treasured aspects of the show, there was a new man in Dustin’s life this season as he found a close friendship with Eddie Munson.

From Eddie’s first appearance, it was clear that Dustin admired the D&D club leader, and it was fitting that they would traverse the Upside Down together.

No one can deny the pure elation that filled Dustin’s face as Eddie played his guitar. Their closeness was touching to witness and heartbreaking to watch end in tragedy. The bond they shared helped to deliver one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the season, as Dustin explained to Eddie’s uncle that his nephew died a hero.

That moment emanated love in its purest form.

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The Culmination of Love and Fear

The series does not shy away from complex emotions, and the relationship between Eleven and Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) is one of the most complicated.

On one hand, he is her “Papa”: the only father she has known for a long time in her life. At the same time, he stole her from her mother at birth and had her mother subjected to mind-frying shock treatment when she came to retrieve her daughter from the lab, his encouraging words and fatherly nature resonated with Eleven.

Even though he medicated her against her will to stop her from running off to save her friends, he did so out of the desire to protect her, although whether this was for her or his benefit is muddled.

Given that Dr. Brenner is neither inherently good nor evil, it causes Eleven’s feelings towards him to be complicated. This is why although Eleven was willing to kill him herself, his death happening in front of her amounted to a jumble of emotions, though forgiveness did not seem to be one of them.

This brand of complex emotions appeared to extend to Vecna as well, as Eleven tried to appeal to the man within the monster during their big battle scene.

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She tried to make excuses for him, blaming Dr. Brenner’s exploitation and control over Henry for the villain that he became. After all, they are both Brenner’s children, exploited and tattooed, forever bonded in history and powers. She can imagine what One must’ve felt because she had undoubtedly felt it herself.

Vecna’s ensuing response created one of my top three favorite moments of the season.

He explains to the young hero that people like him and Eleven are special and are wholly incapable of being affected by a “mediocre man” such as Brenner. He tells Eleven that he became this monster because of her. This follows a personal favorite superhero trope that heroes often are the creators of their biggest opponents.

This layered relationship displays the conjunction of fear and love, as mortal enemies Vecna and Eleven each played a part in creating the other, and more than likely are the only ones who can destroy each other.

Where Vecna explains that a mere human couldn’t possibly affect him, conversely, Eleven is very much affected by the support of others. Like Yin and Yang, one is strengthened by the fears of others, and the other finds strength in love.

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Given the certain Hell to be unleashed by the largest gate to the Upside Down that Hawkins, Indiana has ever seen, the heartache from losing characters is likely only just beginning. When Stranger Things season 5 ends, will it take fan-favorite characters with it?

“Signs point to yes”

If you crave more Hawkins while awaiting the fifth and final season, check out Stranger Things: The Experience, now available in New York, San Francisco, and London.

A writer by both passion and profession: Tiffany Taylor is a mother of three with a lifelong interest in all things strange or mysterious. Her love for the written word blossomed from her love of horror at a young age because scary stories played an integral role in her childhood. Today, when she isn’t reading, writing, or watching scary movies, Tiffany enjoys cooking, stargazing, and listening to music.

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Art and Pain: A Look into the World of ‘Allegoria’ (2022)

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No, an artist doesn’t have to suffer, but we remember those who did and do struggle so much more than those who don’t. Take, for example, Vincent van Gogh, whose final words were “The sadness will last forever.” These words lead us into the anthology film Allegoria (2022), written, produced, and directed by Spider One, in which several artists fight against their fatal flaws and the forces of evil.

The movie shows segments of disparate artists’ lives. There are actors, musicians, a painter, a writer, and a sculptor. On the surface, their stories are connected only by the theme of pursuing their craft. As the film progresses, we see interlacing threads that weave them together, such as a painting, a conversation, a desire. The main connection is the presence of evil, of course, making this a horror film. The gore and unease amplify the horror, and while they are abundant, Allegoria doesn’t hinge on the obvious scares. Instead, it focuses on the ramifications of internal fear.

There are many common fears experienced by artists of all sorts, including imposter syndrome, not being able to support oneself, selling out, and not being understood. As any creator knows, these experiences can halt our work, can stifle our creativity, and can make us want to quit. But for most determined artists, the desire to create is greater than the fear of failure. The artists in Allegoria face these fears quite literally, as they manifest in physical form. How can, say, insecurity be represented physically? By an aggressively instigating, sufficiently creepy person in hellish makeup and costume, of course.

Spider One has successfully completed his first feature film (and directed nine shorts), but most of the creatives in Allegoria are not so lucky as to have a finished product. The writer/producer/director is not so confident in his work that he is never plagued by fear, according to an interview with Portalville Podcast, and we can therefore assume that some level of projection is present in Allegoria. Having a personal connection to one’s art shows in obvious ways: a passion project is often more enjoyable than one produced simply for a paycheck. The cast and crew have certainly experienced the anxieties they present on the screen, giving the film a feeling of authenticity.

Suffering is an essential part of the human experience, but is it essential to the artist’s experience? To an extent, yes, because work that resonates comes from lived experience, but it is not mandatory. Requiring anyone to suffer is cruel, and moreover, requiring suffering for a better experience in consuming art is selfish. So why are we so drawn to evocative art? It’s a complex question that doesn’t have a straight answer, especially considering everyone’s different experiences and preferences. Most can agree, however, that powerful art makes us feel. To paraphrase the sculptor Ivy in one scene, good art takes an object, turns it into a feeling, and turns that feeling into a visceral reaction. Allegoria’s success, much like all horror movies, depends on eliciting a visceral reaction. It deftly uses gore, dread, and dialogue to show that something is not right in these artists’ lives.

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My favorite segment of the film centers on the painter Marcus. He’s an unlikeable protagonist, openly disparaging other art forms such as acting, and he is also pretentious, looking down on his agent for not knowing about Jacob Isaacszoon van Swanenburg’s painting “The Harrowing of Hell.” As he fights against the clock to finish a piece, Marcus deals with the annoyances of forced social interaction. A creator myself, I understand his short temper with interruptions, and I can’t say that I’ve never wanted to get totally immersed in my work and shut out the world. This segment of the film also includes my favorite shot, which I won’t spoil for you.

Allegoria is a great representation of the misfortune of creativity. Those who are cursed with it often suffer for their art. That suffering is not necessary, but I’d say it is felt by the majority of artists. Through physical manifestations of their anxieties, the depicted creators face evil forces. But is it truly evil, or is it simply an allegory?

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REVIEW: ‘They/Them’ is a Problematic Yes/No

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This movie needs a ton of trigger warnings: homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, animal cruelty, and aversion therapy.

When I first heard about They/Them I was incredibly nervous for it to come out. While it’s not new to have nonbinary characters in horror films, we rarely get such explicit representation. I expected this film to either be a radical example of queer representation and catharsis or completely off the mark. I was especially wary because of the conversion camp setting. However, I felt like it was a mixed bag.

Let me start by saying that there are some genuinely upsetting moments, especially for those of us who can relate to the campers. There are many scenes where the characters share their motivations for being at the conversion camp, and while this helps us understand their motivations and watch their growth throughout the film, it can hit a little too close to home. There are also instances when transgender characters are outed and then misgendered. The movie obviously pulls heavily from Friday the 13th but lacks the pacing that made other slasher movies suspenseful. Furthermore, I would have liked to have felt more anxiety for the campers, to really emphasize how fucked up the conversion camp was. However, the actual violence we see against the campers is pretty upsetting. I would have rather the movie focus on the camp’s backward conception of gender roles rather than seeing outright violence against queer characters.

One thing I think They/Them got right was its characters. The campers are all likable and have their own plotlines, despite the movie having a bit of an ensemble cast. At some points, the characters do feel like caricatures of LGBTQ+ stereotypes, but this is done more for inside jokes to make those of us in the community laugh, rather than making a joke at our expense. Jordan, the main character, is very capable and confident. They are the nonbinary representation I was hoping for, even if they sometimes fall into the Gary/Mary Sue category.

Overall, I’m not sure if I can recommend this movie. Its final message is interesting, and preaches finding strength through community over violence. But for anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community, this movie might be difficult to watch. It’s nice to see representation, but the possibility of being triggered is very real in this movie. Although They/Them was quite funny at moments, it’s not very scary. I’d say this movie is enjoyable, but not worth the risk if you are sensitive to any of the triggers listed at the beginning.

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They/Them is now streaming on Peacock.

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