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STRANGER THINGS Season 4 Is a Violent, Unacceptable Bloodbath

Poster via Netflix

STRANGER THINGS Season 4 Is a Violent, Unacceptable Bloodbath

By Movieguide® Contributor

The fourth season of Netflix’s original streaming series STRANGER THINGS returns beloved cast members Millie Bobbie Brown, Winona Ryder, Finn Wolfhard, and David Harbour to the spotlight. The directing and producing brothers Matt and Ross Duffer share a credit with returning Season 3 writer, Caitlin Schneiderhan. Season 4 follows Eleven as she tries to unlock her superpowers before a paranormal villain can destroy everything she has come to love.

STRANGER THINGS features an ensemble of parents, teenagers, and children who work to uncover the secrets behind supernatural events plaguing Hawkins, Indiana. After losing her father figure, Chief Hopper, along with her telepathic abilities, Eleven has moved to California with the Byers family. She wants to move on from her traumatic past and appear normal but struggles to make friends. Her adoptive mother Joyce is too preoccupied with receiving clues that Hopper may be alive and imprisoned in Russia to notice the unhappiness of her kids. Back in Hawkins, a brutal murder prompts teens Steve, Dustin, Max, and the rest of the gang to try and keep the monsters of the Upside Down from destroying their town. 

Even without her powers, Eleven feels that she is too different to ever be understood by the people around her. She embarks on a solo mission to restore her abilities. This leaves visiting boyfriend Mike and adoptive brothers Jonathan and Will to chase after her, desperate to help. Meanwhile, Joyce and eccentric conspiracy theorist Murray begin unraveling the mysteries surrounding Hopper’s death. In Indiana, Max wrestles with feelings of survivor’s guilt and flashbacks of her brother’s murder. Like Eleven, she has chosen to shut her friends out of her life. However, when one schoolmate is killed and another is blamed for the murder, the Hawkins kids come together to search for the truth.

STRANGER THINGS Season 4 may use grisly imagery and 1980’s adventure stylings to get the point across, but the fact remains: the show champions the idea of inherent goodness within man triumphing over evil. For example, Max is trapped in memories of failure, and only succeeds in escaping them when she focuses on the love of her friends. Eleven is unable to conquer her obstacles until she focuses on the love she has been shown by others. None of the characters require a savior outside of their own ability to refocus. The show delights in telling the audience that humanity can find salvation within itself, displaying a mainly Romantic worldview. There are also elements of humanism present. A theme that has been built on from previous seasons is the dominant heroism of children over adults. Authority is treated as an obstacle or a nuisance. In fact, Hopper, who was once arguably the strongest role model in the show, proudly remarks on how little his daughter needs him and must grow beyond him. This one example of a not-so-subtle, constant pattern of evolutionary thinking. STRANGER THINGS’ narrative operates under the belief that children are the future, and adults are meddlesome stepping stones to climb over.

In addition to its problematic worldview,  Season 4 of STRANGER THINGS is peppered with excessive foul language and profanities. One scene in the first episode is constructed entirely around a lewd conversation. Two characters are shown partially nude during scenes of torture. Speaking of which, graphic torture itself is a staple of this season. Jonathan’s only character development so far is that he has dropped every interest other than smoking weed and getting high with his friend Argyle, which is treated as comedic and features in all but two episodes.

More than one character gets drunk, including Max’s mother, who is implied to have become an alcoholic. The young ensemble’s heroic actions all revolve around lying to adults, stealing from adults, attacking adults and successfully deceiving parents or officers of the law. Season 1’s insistence that “friends don’t lie,” the last bastion of pseudo-honor in the child characters, falls hard in season 4 of STRANGER THINGS as each of the kids lies to their friends without hesitation. Even with all of that disappointing news, the biggest rise in dark content for this season is the violence. 

Mental trauma is reflected physically and very graphically. None of the episodes go by without flashing back to or elaborating on the bloody massacre of building full of children. Child murder is such a prevalent part of the story that the producers include a warning at the beginning of the season. The main plot revolves around the extremely graphic mutilation and prolonged anguish of teenage characters. Two of the main characters spend all of their screen time under physical duress and torment, and much of the show is devoted to portraying that. Bible verses are used as a weapon by villainous bullies to whip unreasonable townsfolk into an angry mob, and religion in general is treated as ridiculous by the heroes. Satanism is mentioned though not practiced in the show, and demonic imagery is drawn from to create a more scary mood throughout the events of the season. There are flashbacks to a sex scene from the first season, and partial nudity in three episodes. 

One positive aspect of the Netflix hit is the production value. STRANGER THINGS season 4 is at its peak in terms of excellent lighting, effects, and use of color. The monsters are masterpieces of 80s-era practical effects. The use of warm, desaturated color draws viewers in and continues to evoke 80’s nostalgia. Then the palette is typically switched to over-saturated reds whenever a corresponding intensity of action shocks the system. The camera work in season 4 features plenty of fun shots. However, none of this fancy camera footwork adds to the emotional content of the scenes, and leaves the audience distracted. Finally, the large ensemble cast has caught up to the writing team. There are simply too many characters without enough room to add to the overall plot. Much of what made the cast endearing at the show’s premiere has been lost over time. For example, Joyce, a character who wielded motherly devotion like a superpower in previous seasons, has no idea what is going on in her children’s lives or hearts in season 4. Additionally, once-selfless Jonathan has been written as a detached drug addict, too busy running from responsibility to maintain his closest relationships. These changes come without any convincing build-up on the writers’ part, and strip away the charms that used to add hope to STRANGER THINGS’ dark tone.

Though STRANGER THINGS has been praised in the past by critics as a show celebrating familial loyalty, season 4 is too focused on delivering violent or sensual thrills to even recall those positive elements. Without strong adult role models, the spotlight is left to shine on cynical and immoral child characters. Without an uplifting story, horror and shock-value is the sticky web holding the penultimate season of STRANGER THINGS together. Though good triumphs over evil eventually, the show contains excessive sex, violence, immorality, and worldview problems. Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE finds this season to be unacceptable.