It’s roughly two weeks before the release of Stranger Things season four and the cast are chatting to NME via video call, swapping stories for our entertainment. They’re currently picking their fave lines from the new episodes.
“Mine’s: ‘That’s a lot of Ricks’,” says Maya Hawke, who plays ice cream-slinging teen Robin in the hit show. “Great line,” agree co-stars Joe Keery and Natalia Dyer, grinning as they remember the scene.
None of them can, of course, reveal anything more about this multitude of Ricks (spoilers!) – but that just adds to the intrigue. Stranger Things is perhaps the biggest show on TV – and its return the most highly anticipated this year.
First catching fire in 2016 as one of Netflix’s early sci-fi series, the smalltown story of a young girl with supernatural powers called Eleven has since reached another level. Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard and the rest of its child stars are now mega-famous adults (with massive Instagram accounts), while 18.2 million people streamed season three in its first four days online. Almost three years have passed since then, and the pandemic-enforced absence has only increased expectations.
Luckily, season four delivers the goods. We pick up six months after the Battle of Starcourt, and the defeat of latest scary monster The Mind Flayer. The gang are still shaken and scattered, with Eleven (Bobby Brown) moving to California and surrogate dad/police chief Hopper (David Harbour) presumed dead but actually in a snowy Russian prison thousands of miles away. Back in Hawkins, everyone is starting high school. But what’s that? A horrifying new creature is creeping ever closer? Here’s Stranger Things creators The Duffer Brothers – and some of the stars – to tell you what comes next…
There’s a compelling new classmate and the creepiest monster yet
We have some notable newbies in season four – including one human and another… less human introduction. With the younger group of Hawkins’ teens now in high school, they’re exposed to a ton of new people, including Eddie Munson, played by British actor Joseph Quinn. “He’s the head of the Dungeons & Dragons club at Hawkins High – he’s about heavy metal and D&D,” explains Quinn of the long-haired new figure, who plays a pivotal role in this season.
Equally integral – and much more frightening – is the latest villain to threaten life in Hawkins: Vecna. “He’s slimy, he’s wet, he’s really bad – you don’t want to come across him in a dark alley,” warns Keery, who plays jock-turned-nice-guy Steve, of the Pinhead and Pennywise-inspired monster.
“We’ve never had a creature like them, that is just so calculated,” Sadie Sink – AKA skateboarding high schooler Max Mayfield – adds. “It ends up being the biggest threat that Hawkins has ever had to face.”
We catch up with all of our old pals
In Stranger Things season four, each character has been pushed forward – by the terrifying things they’ve experienced so far, and also just because they’re older and wiser (in most cases).
Hawke points to Robin being a bit braver now. “She used her wicked intelligence to help fight the Russians last season and I think you’ll see her learn a lot about what’s going on in the world of Hawkins,” she says,” and use her brilliant mind to tackle those things as well.”
There are big changes, too, for the much-loved Sinclair siblings. So far, we’ve mostly seen Erica (Priah Ferguson) through the lens of being Lucas’ little sister, but this season sees her move into the spotlight on her own terms. “With Erica stepping in as a leader, I think it’s made her understand more about what’s been going on for the past three seasons,” Ferguson explains. “She comes to the realisation that this is a pretty serious, dangerous situation she’s putting herself into.”
For Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), who’s played a major part since the very first episode, much has changed too. After being bullied as a youngster, he’s been accepted into a cooler crowd at high school: Hawkins High’s basketball team. Unfortunately, that means he’s grown apart from OG mates Will (Noah Schnapp) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard). “He’s really conflicted with trying to find himself and being with his friends,” McLaughlin tells us. “He doesn’t want to put his friends down. This season gets more into his personal life and where his thoughts are.”
Max struggles to deal with the trauma of season three
Last season wasn’t an easy one for Max (Sink). As well as the usual pressures of teen life and living in a town plagued by monsters, she had to watch her brother Billy die at the hands of The Mind Flayer during the climactic Battle of Starcourt. Unsurprisingly, that’s not something she’s shaken off when we rejoin the group.
“When you experience a trauma like that, it’s interesting how your body and mind reacts and the questions that you ask yourself and the really dark places that you go to,” Sink explains. “Max is in a really tricky mental place and feeling very vulnerable, but doesn’t want anyone to know it.” Instead of reaching out to her friends for support, though, she cuts them off and keeps her feelings to herself – something Sink hints “ends up hurting her more than anything”.
Nancy and Robin are this season’s dynamic duo
Each season of Stranger Things seems to highlight the blossoming relationship between one group or pair in Hawkins. If last season was the turn of the bromance between Steve and Dustin, this season it’s Nancy (played by Natalia Dyer) and Robin’s time to shine. The two actors, seated next to each other during our interview, quietly high five each other at the suggestion, big smiles on their faces.
Dyer shares some insight into the pair’s on-screen friendship. “At the beginning, there’s probably a little bit of friction or tension in the sense that they’re just very different people,” she says of their characters. “But through everything that goes on, they start to understand each other and work together, think like each other and care about each other. It was such a fun journey for these two characters to go on and to see that dynamic evolve.”
We learn more about Eleven’s past
One of the big mysteries of Stranger Things has always been Eleven’s backstory – and how she got her supernatural powers. We know she was experimented on at Hawkins National Laboratory as a child, but further details are blurry. This season delves deeper into her history, as well as clarifying parts of the show’s mythology.
“Halfway through writing season one Netflix said, ‘Can you just explain the mythology to us?’” cro-creator Matt Duffer says. “So we sat down with our writers and wrote this 25-page document and ever since we’ve been peeling back the layers of that.” With the show now on its penultimate season, the Duffers felt it was the right time to spill some beans. “Because those answers lie in the past, some of them really go back to when Eleven was in Hawkins Lab and her storyline, so we really wanted to go back there and explore that.”
Love horror? Then you’re in for a treat
Stranger Things has always borrowed from iconic horror cinema – Alien, Day Of The Dead and The Exorcist have all been referenced – and season four is no different. During our interview, the Duffers reel off a watchlist that would make for a chilling movie marathon. “The biggest influences would probably be A Nightmare On Elm Street One and Three, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, weirdly The Cell, with Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn,” says Ross. “There’s IT too. The mini-series from 1990 with Tim Curry’s Pennywise scarred us, maybe more than anything else, so we talked about that a lot and why that messed us up as much as it did.”
Horror icon Robert Englund pops up
“I wish we had been brilliant enough to think about it,” Ross Duffer says, smiling when asked about the appearance of A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Robert Englund in this season. The iconic actor behind Freddy Krueger plays Victor Creel in the new episodes – a part he put himself up for instead of being approached to play. “I cannot tell you how surreal it is to be watching audition tape after audition tape and then suddenly you go, ‘Is that Robert Englund in a bathtub?’” laughs Matt.
“It’s just a dream come true to work with him, but then for people to also see him in a role that wasn’t just Freddy Krueger,” Ross chips in. “I think he gets to do something in the episode that he’s in that is really emotional and really effective.”
Season five will take things up a notch…
Make the most of season four’s relatively soft reintroduction to the Hawkins family, because when Stranger Things enters its fifth and final season it’ll be intense from the off. “Typically in the previous seasons, everything wraps up in a nice bow,” Matt Duffer explains. “Four and five are really [connected] together. [With five], there’ll be no wind-up time – like even this season, you get to experience the kids and what they’re going through in high school before things start to escalate. Then it gets crazier and crazier and crazier – that’s typically the trajectory. Five, you’re just going to be right in the middle of it so it’s going to feel very, very different.”
As for how the show will end, the brothers are keeping shtum for now, but say they know how this saga will close out. “We do have an end,” Matt confirms. “I’m sure a lot of it’s going to change, but now [it’s] the end. It’s just one of those things that you come up with and you go, ‘That’s it, that’s right, that’s inevitable – that’s what it has to be’.”
…but you absolutely don’t want to miss out on this season
If all that wasn’t enough to convince you to tune in, Matarazzo gives us the hard sell. “It’s massive,” he says. “It’s bigger than any season we’ve had. I think it expands upon the lore that we’ve created over the course of three seasons very, very well and answers questions. It provides cool opportunities for the entire cast to do some really great stuff. There’s a great new villain, and it’s been a long time – it’s been three years so I feel like the anticipation is greater than anything else.”
‘Stranger Things’ season four is released on Netflix on May 27