Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things 3. Even though it’s about a bunch of young teenagers, Stranger Things 3 gets pretty dark, pretty fast. The first two seasons straddled the line between the sci-fi and horror genres, but the latest eight chapters may have finally taken things over the edge — especially if you’re easily spooked. Unlike past seasons, the story doesn’t waste time getting intense and, well, bloody. Viewers are in for a chilling surprise less than 30 minutes into the first episode, and it only gets better (or worse, depending on your taste).
If you remember correctly, the final shot of Season 2 hinted at impending danger. The shadow monster was lurking over Hawkins Middle School as the kids — Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, and Max — enjoy their winter formal. It was a peak into the potential of Season 3, but in retrospect, the scene is childlike compared to the hair-raising story that the Duffer brothers delivered on July 4.
The season opens up on a Russian military crew testing a contraption that will reopen the gate to the alternate world, and when it goes wrong, it’s at the cost of a man’s life. Like the Harry Potter series, Stranger Things is showing its group of teenage protagonists grow up — and as they do, so does its imagery and content.
If its kid-friendly identity was in question at the sudden (and quite frankly, devastating) death of Bob Newby in Season 2, Season 3 definitely puts it on the chopping block. With the interweaving of politics via corrupt Mayor Kline and frequent murders throughout, it sometimes feels like watching a primetime crime show. The noticeably increased special effects budget makes Barb’s Season 1 abduction feel laughable, which means that if you’re prone to queasiness, you may want to pass on the viewing snacks for this marathon.
It’s summer, and the kids sneak into a viewing of Day of the Dead at the new Starcourt Mall thanks to Steve’s secret entrance at Scoops Ahoy — his ice cream serving, girl schmoozing summer gig. The screening, and the corresponding goosebumps raised on the back of Will’s neck, perfectly foreshadow the harrowing season ahead.
While it’s comforting to know that the demodogs that took our beloved Mr. Newby are taking a back seat (for now), Season 3 replaces them with monstrous rats — a swarm massive enough to disturb the most resilient of New Yorkers. And these are no regular rats. They’re temporary hosts for the shadow monster — also known as the Mind Flayer — and they’re a dozen notches beyond rabid. They’re possessed.
They toss and turn until they literally explode into bubbling slime, a glutinous appendage to the Mind Flayer that slithers its way to its next host. That’s how the Mind Flayer grows, and Billy Mayfield, Max’s skeevy older brother, is attacked first.
Instead of being contained to Will and the Upside Down, the Mind Flayer’s Season 3 victims are aplenty. Lead by Billy, they take over Hawkins Walking Dead-style — creepy walker army shots included. The music feels eerier, the fights are more frequent and intense, and there’s a scene that covers every basic human fear (drowning, wrongful imprisonment, torture, and more).
Thankfully, the story’s growing intensity is balanced out by teenage summer romance, ’80s nostalgia, and a little bit of self-exploration and girl power. Still, be warned that this Mind Flayer-sized stomp into horror territory may require multiple cans of Farrah Fawcett spray for protection.
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