Eleven, we’re not in Hawkins anymore. After three seasons spent solely in that small Indiana town, the Stranger Things gang is branching out.
The upcoming fourth season of the worldwide phenomenon will expand the on-screen action to California and Russia, in addition to Hawkins, as the group deals with the aftermath of Hopper sacrificing his life to close the gate to the Upside Down and the show inches closer to its recently announced fifth and final season.
Ahead of the series’ May 27 return, creators, executive producers, writers, and directors, the Duffer Brothers discuss making this the “scariest season yet,” uncovering more about the show’s mythology and getting closer to Stranger Things’ endgame.
This season is bigger in scope and scale than any of the past seasons. What differentiates Season 4 from the past three seasons of Stranger Things?
Matt Duffer: We call this our Game of Thrones season because we have so many different locations. The fact that we’re as spread out as we are this year defines the season more than anything. I think that’s what makes it a very unique and special season of Stranger Things. We have Hawkins, of course, as always, but then on top of that we have California and Russia. We have storylines in those three major locations, and each has a very distinct feel and look. And all these storylines, disparate as they are, do end up, eventually and inevitably, coming together. It’s a very unique season.
Ross Duffer: We had a lot of fun with the fact that Season 3 was set in summer, and it was really technicolor and bright and very poppy. We saw it as our summer blockbuster, but it had one of the darker endings with Hopper being gone and our group splitting up. We continue with that darkness this season. It’s about dread, and it’s also about revelations. We have so many ideas that we accumulate over the years, and this season it feels like we’re finally bringing almost all of them to life. We learn more this season than we ever have about our mythology. We learn a lot about the Upside Down and what this evil force that’s been threatening Hawkins all these years really wants. It’s exciting for us, because a lot of the story is uncovered this season. Overall, I would say that the tone is certainly darker than it’s been. The goal was to make this the scariest season yet.
You’ve intentionally made this the darkest and scariest season yet. Can you talk about that tonal shift?
Matt Duffer: We’re always trying something different each season to make sure the show is evolving. And that comes naturally in a lot of ways because our kids are growing up. It’s funny, I can’t even actually call them “kids,” they’re basically young adults now. We thought that this was a good year to put them in what is basically a horror film. Ross mentioned that dread is a big part of this season. What the teens are dealing with, especially in the Hawkins storyline, is a full-fledged Nightmare on Elm Street-esque horror film. A lot of that has to do with the new villain this year, a more humanoid-looking monster in the vein of classic supernatural serial killers. That’s another huge defining factor for this season.
This season, we learn more about the Upside Down than we ever have before. What led to that creative decision?
Matt Duffer: We spend more time in the Upside Down this year than we ever have before. We love shooting scenes in the Upside Down. We always love how they turn out. And we didn’t get to go to the Upside Down at all in Season 3. When Will was gone all of Season 1, we didn’t really get to see what he was experiencing, or how he was communicating with Joyce. This year, we really wanted to explore a little bit of how that worked, and we wanted to see it from the side of the Upside Down. That was a lot of fun to write.
Ross Duffer: It’s also fun just hopping back and forth between these dimensions. When we were looking back at our original Stranger Things pitch, we had the kids going through multiple portals or gates, going back and forth from this dimension. We never had the time to do that in Season 1, but we’re still really excited about that idea.
What can we expect from Stranger Things going forward?
Ross Duffer: You can feel the story barreling towards some sort of endgame or conclusion. That’s what is really exciting to us about this season. We had a lot of fun in Season Three, but now it’s really serious in terms of actually starting to peel back the layers of this mythology. And as you get these answers, you really see that we’re headed towards a very clear destination, and toward the end of Stranger Things. Which is a little sad, but also exciting for us, and I think for everyone involved.
Stranger Things 4, Vol. 1 premieres May 27.