The gang is back again for round four as Hawkins is in more danger than ever before. Finally after three years since Stranger Things 3 (2019) was released, fans are now treated to volume 1 of the final season which consists of seven long, story-packed episodes. Each episode for Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 has a runtime of over an hour, so it’ll feel like you’re watching several mini movies. If you want to binge it like I did, you better be prepared to set aside at least nine hours of your day. I found this season to be the boldest, scariest, and darkest season of them all – they especially didn’t hold back on the body horror. As someone who can’t handle blood and gore, I had to really mentally prepare myself before watching (spent a good number of times covering my face with my hand and peeking through my fingers), but let me tell you, it was worth it. The Duffer Brothers definitely delivered and they produced a season that is sure to live up to fans’ expectations. [Warning: this review contains spoilers]

There are multiple storylines this season following the gang’s split at the end of season 3 so there’s a lot to pay attention to; there’s one following Joyce and Murray in Alaska, Hopper in Russia, Eleven, Mike, Will, and Jonathon in California, and the rest in Hawkins. I have to admit, although each storyline was unique, I was mainly invested in the Hawkins group. It was the most engaging and thrilling out of the four, and I have always felt that the show is at its best when it stays in Hawkins and further explores the Upside Down. Whenever the show panned to a different group, I remember thinking, “Wait, I want to go back to Hawkins, I want to know what’s happening there.”

And that’s because Hawkins is where a lot of the intense drama and action is happening. I mean, right at the end of episode 1, we witness Chrissy’s brutal death which really set the bar for the horror this season. If you’re squeamish like me, you’ll want to look away during this scene – it’s really graphic. But this death was meant to make a statement, that the villain this season, Vecna, was the real deal. I really enjoyed Vecna as the main antagonist and I thought the Duffer Brothers did an amazing job in making him unique and complex. I was originally worried this season would be some sort of a repeat, but they more than exceeded my expectations. Vecna opened the door to a whole different kind of scary. Not only did he look visually terrifying and grotesque, the actor Jamie Campbell Bowell succeeded in making him feel awfully manipulative and menacing. I think what makes Vecna so terrifying is that he isn’t just some murderer who kills at random, he targets victims of guilt and unresolved trauma; they’re all already vulnerable and broken. We see him forcing his victims back into their worst nightmare, and then murders them in the most horrific way possible. All I can say is the writers really stepped it up this season. The stakes are high.

While there’s a lot going on in this final season, you can rest assured that the characters are the same lovable, dependable group of people. What’s always drawn me to this show and what continues to do so, is my love for the cast and the characters. They have great chemistry with one another and their friendships translate authentically off the screen. It’s been great watching them grow up alongside the show (gives me Harry Potter vibes!), although I do miss how adorable they were as kids in season 1. The Duffer Brothers always nail creating the best group/duo dynamics and this season was no different. Whoever thought of putting the Hawkins group together (Max, Dustin, Lucas, Steve, Nancy, Robin, Eddie), I just want to say thank you. It was so fun watching them solve the mysteries and they really carried this season in my opinion. I love that we can see how they have matured and transformed into full fledged detectives. I especially loved Nancy and how she took on the leadership role this season. She caught some pretty important clues and I think she’ll have a large role in how this all ends. Of course, fans will also be delighted to see the popular Steve and Dustin combo back together again. Their witty and sarcastic banter definitely helped to ease the tension during really intense and scary moments.

I was a little disappointed with the other characters though because I felt like they didn’t get as much to work with. While Eleven does get her moment to shine and has an interesting arc across the seven episodes, I can’t say the same for the others. I was disappointed to see Jonathon being reduced to a druggie, and Will and Mike just felt one note and kind of boring. I’m really hoping they get better development in volume 2 because they were some of my favourite characters in previous seasons. Let’s just say, with all the murders going on in Hawkins and Hopper fighting for his life in a Russian prison, I didn’t particularly care about Mike and his relationship issues or how Jonathon just smokes pot all day.

Look, I can’t write a review for this season without mentioning how incredible episode 4 was. That was definitely my favourite episode and for good reason. Sadie Sink absolutely nailed her performance and was phenomenal as Max. She was able to perfectly draw out emotions of guilt, depression, and fear, and from what I’ve been reading online, it resonated with a lot of people. The entire episode I felt on edge and was anxious and concerned for her wellbeing. I mean come on, we’ve seen what Vecna can do at this point and no, I didn’t really want to see Max getting all her bones crushed and broken. The Duffer Brothers expertly built up the tension in this episode and didn’t relieve us until the very last minute; I was genuinely worried (and convinced) that she was going to die. That final scene where Max is running away from Vecna to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is one of the most powerful, well shot scenes I’ve seen on TV in a LONG time. I felt so many different emotions all at once and I don’t think I breathed until I realized she made it out. The episode’s moral on fighting back and fighting for happiness and love was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but cry. Someone please give Sadie Sink an Emmy.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 is an absolute wild and thrilling ride. I couldn’t stop at just watching one episode and before I knew it, hours had passed by and I finished the whole damn thing. Although there are definitely moments when the episodes feel a little too lengthy, the Duffer Brothers overall did a good job with the pacing. There’s enough suspense that it makes you want to keep going, but not too much that it’ll overwhelm you. They ended volume 1 by finally answering who Vecna is, but that just left the door open to so many more questions. I’m sure fans, like myself, will be keeping this show in mind for the next month or so until the final two episodes are out. After really enjoying what this season had to offer, I’m giving Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 an 8.5/10 (I would give episode 4 alone a 10/10!). I’m so excited for volume 2 (release date: July 1, 2022) and seeing how all of this ends. Until then, I’ll be figuring out what my favourite song is in case Vecna comes for me.