Monsters, Fathers, and Stranger Things
"In a review of the show’s first season, Joshua Rothman described Stranger Things as something like “Lovecraft in suburbia.” The looming, multi-armed monster presented as a new archfoe in the latest season certainly suggests the showrunners—identical twins Matt and Ross Duffer—leaned toward the Lovecraftian. Yet there’s still something crucial missing in that description. H. P. Lovecraft’s particular brand of New England nihilism located horror in the unknown, uncaring vastness of the sea and outer space, from the depths of which emerge alien gods who prove humanity’s insignificance—not by their malice but by their indifference. What drives Lovecraft’s protagonists mad is the revelation that humans don’t matter to the universe. Thus his subgenre is commonly called “cosmic horror.”
The philosophy of Stranger Things is more human-friendly, and the horror of Stranger Things is closer to home. The monsters come from another realm, but not from deep space: It’s the so-called “Upside Down” right under the surface of our world. When characters get a glimpse of it, they see a rotting, cold, toxic duplicate of the town of Hawkins. The geography is the same, the buildings are the same, but everything is crumbling, fetid, overgrown with slithering vines and squelching tentacles. Season two forgoes any subtlety. The evil of the Upside Down twists its way into Hawkins, rooted in the soil itself.
The theme of absent and abusive fathers runs deep. The monster that took Will in the show’s first season is the negative image of his absent father. It torments his mother Joyce, riddles the house’s walls with holes, and drags Will to a dark and lonely place—literalizing the wounds Lonnie Byers inflicted on his family. Another father we see—Ted Wheeler, whose son and daughter both become entangled in the supernatural adventure—is a stand-in for obtuse and unconcerned parents everywhere; his highest domestic ambition is napping in his recliner."