Star Rating:

Stranger Things 15

Streaming On: Watch Stranger Things on Netflix

Season: 4

Episode: 4

Actors: Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Sadie Sink

Release Date: Friday 27th May 2022

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

While it's been a very long wait for fans of the series, we are happy to report our first four episodes back in Hawkins (and also our first proper journey outside of it) delivers on all of the horror, laughs, teenage angst and '80s references we've been missing for the past three years.

It's been years (!) since our last trip back to Hawkins, and a lot of things have changed in that time; Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has moved to California with the Byers family; Hopper (David Harbour), believed to have exploded into nothingness at the end of season three, is alive and kicking in a Russian concentration camp; while the crew back home are growing up, dealing with love lives, and still suffering from their previous monstrous escapades. But the one thing that hasn't changed? There's still a nefarious presence in town. 'Stranger Things' season four reintroduces The Upside Down in a new way, with the evil presence this time around preying on teenagers who are dealing with traumatising moments from their past.

The series starts with a re-cap (thank you, Netflix) which follows Joyce Byers' (Winona Ryder) storyline from the previous three seasons. The quiet linchpin of the entire franchise, Joyce and her motley crew consisting of Hopper and new series regular Murray (Brett Gelmen), have become one of the series' ultimate highlights throughout its run. This time around, Joyce and Murray de-code a bizarre message, informing them of Hopper's dire situation, and the duo attempt a quick turnaround rescue mission without even telling the kids their plan. It's best not to get Eleven's hopes up, right?

Speaking of Eleven, she's having a very tough time of it all. A character who has never quite fitted in, she is the subject of unfair and unruly bullying in her new school from Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) and her crew of little twerps. Having lost her powers in season three, El's struggling with this alongside the (supposed) loss of the man who became an important father figure to her, adjusting to a new school, not making any friends, and living so far away from her boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard).

On the surface level, all seem relatively normal teen angsty stuff. But back in Hawkins, there's something rumbling in that alternative dimension hidden... somewhere. Vecna is the new slimy bad of the season, inspired by an evil character who appears in Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and his friends' game of 'Dungeons & Dragons'. The ominous presence does a stellar job at doing the evil things that it does, mostly down to it being a Mind Flayer with, well, an actual mind. Creepy and nightmarish, Volume One sets up what will probably be the biggest showdown in Hawkins yet, thanks to the cerebral entity that's preying on innocent teenagers.

Elsewhere in Hawkins, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is struggling with juggling his newfound basketball team glory and staying in contact with his "geekier" friends; while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is using her journalistic eye to solve one of the latest strange happenings. Newcomer Eddie (Joseph Quinn) is the fresh, high-energised meat who becomes an early focal point for our mystery-solvers; while Robin (Maya Hawke) and Steve (Joe Keery) talk about their love lives in their VHS rental shop. It would be remiss of us if we didn't mention Max (Sadie Sink), who really steps into her own this season, a young girl carrying around the guilt of losing her older brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) in last season's finale.

Will Volume Two make for a worthy conclusion to the series? If it does, get ready for a five-star review coming your way. For now, though, there are too many questions left unanswered to give a full review of the season. But it is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, those extra-long episodes on the horizon in Volume Two won't make us wish everything was more condensed - but there should be enough storyline to explore - and explain - going forward.

Volume One is a strong introduction back into the world, with episode one being a pleasant catch-up back with the characters, establishing some new ones, and giving the audience just enough horror and wonder to keep you excited for what's waiting around the corner. Once the first episode is out of the way, however, the stakes kick in as three separate storylines continue simultaneously, each becoming increasingly more urgent.

There's just something so comforting about tuning into 'Stranger Things' season four, hearing that theme song kick in, and knowing that you're about to embark on another tall tale with your old pals from Hawkins. Plus, the '80s tunes this time around (Dead or Alive, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, Falco) are arguably the series' best.

'Stranger Things' season four Volume One begins on May 27; Volume Two hits Netflix on July 1. This review covers the first four episodes.