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SYFY WIRE Stranger Things 4

Critics say 'Stranger Things 4' is 'biggest, scariest, most ambitious' season yet for Netflix horror hit

The first half of Stranger Things 4 lands on Netflix May 27.

By Josh Weiss

After an interminable three-year hiatus, Stranger Things will finally return to Netflix this Friday (May 27) for the first "half" of its fourth season. We use quotation marks around "half" because Vol. 2 — which drops at the very start of July — only contains two episodes. However, their runtimes are equivalent to that of feature-length movies released into theaters, so there isn't much to complain about.

Anyway, with just days to go until the rest of us can check out the super-sized seven episodes that make up Vol. 1, Netflix has lifted the review embargo for critics, all of whom are pretty much in agreement: Season 4 was most certainly worth the wait!

Larger in both narrative scope and thematic ambitions, the beloved, '80s-inspired show plunges headlong into the world of horror with the introduction of Vecna, a humanoid antagonist from the Upside Down capable of murdering teens in their nightmares. Sound familiar? Welcome to primetime! The Duffer Brothers have gone on record several times, stating that this season was heavily influenced by a number of classic horror franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

As such, it was only fitting that they recruit Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, to play the role of convicted killer Victor Creel, whose bloody past in the 1950s past somehow connects to the events of the present where our Hawkins heroes (now scattered across the globe) have another paranormal conundrum on their hands.

With the characters and the actors who play them all grown up, Stranger Things no longer has to pull any storytelling punches (if it ever did). Season 4 is darker and more mature than any of the previous three seasons combined. But don't take our word for it. Break open a box of fresh Eggo waffles and head below to see what critics are saying...

"The fourth season of Stranger Things is the biggest, scariest, most ambitious Stranger Things season yet. It’s also the least charming, least funny and least inventive season yet, which doesn’t mean that those elements are wholly lacking, just that the effort to concentrate on moments of human relatability often gets overwhelmed by the attempts at scale." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"For as interesting as the eventual reveals are, it’s downright jarring to realize that there’s going to be a whole other season beyond the second part of Season 4. The way Vecna ties into the rest of the series makes it hard to imagine how much more juice the series could squeeze from it — but of course, mining as much material from this one property as possible is now as much the point of Stranger Things as anything else." -Caroline Framke, Variety

"Part 1 of Stranger Things Season 4 sets up its most ambitious season yet, and despite a few moments where you can feel it struggling under the weight of that ambition, it largely works. The performances – particularly David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, and Sadie Sink’s – are all top notch, new baddie Vecna is appropriately terrifying, and there are some gorgeous special effects. Not every plotline in these extra-long episodes works as well, but none feels unworthy of the time spent. We’ll have to wait and see if Season 4 sticks the landing as a whole with the final two episodes in July, but for now, we can say that this batch of episodes was well worth the wait." -Alex Stedman, IGN

"Season 4 continues to find the Duffer Brothers at the absolute top of their game. The series’ creators have done a bang-up job of letting their kids mature and experience all the pains that accompany growing up — and, in some cases, growing apart. They’ve shaken up couples to reveal what they’re actually made of. And the supernatural mystery that the EPs have set in motion is, blessed as it is with a central character about whom we care deeply, as likely to turn you inside out as, ahem, upside down." -Charlie Mason, TVLine

"Vecna owes a lot to the previously mentioned Mr. Krueger and other slasher icons of the 1980s. He’s a gnarly looking demonic humanoid – Freddy mixed with one of the Cenobites from Hellraiser with a dash of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Davy Jones thrown in – who is targeting high schoolers in Hawkins. Vecna tracks down troubled teens, puts them into a dream-like trance state, and then horrifically murders them. He’s far more terrifying than the Demogorgons and Mind Flayers of seasons past — and, as the season goes along, far more interesting. The problem for our heroes is no one can figure out why or how he’s here. Again, the gate to the Upside Down is closed, and our heroes track Vecna’s presence all the way back to 1959, long before Eleven first accidentally opened it. It's a more compelling mystery than what the show offered up in Season 3 and heralds the arrival of a version of Stranger Things that's both more mature and more chilling." -Robert Brian Taylor, Collider

"Season 3 of Stranger Things was an improvement over the draggy season 2. (I'll pause while those of you who disagree yell at your screens.) Still, the fun felt a little faded, and Hopper's left-turn into toxic masculinity didn't help. So, when Season 4 Volume 1 — seven episodes, all but one over 70 minutes long — dropped in my Netflix press account, I'll admit that excitement was not my first emotion. What a pleasure it is to be wrong. Fresh locales, appealing new characters, and a rewarding expansion of the mythology give the new season of Stranger Things a jolt of joyful energy, just when the series needed it most." -Kristen Baldwin, Entertainment Weekly

"More than ever, Stranger Things masterfully balances the trauma of teenage years with the literal horrors of the parallel dimension the Upside Down: among the movies nodded to this time are The Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm Street, while the series throws up many petrifying moments and its scariest monster yet. Nicknamed Vecna by the kids, it is far from a one-dimensional horror ready to be slain; rather the writers have crafted a terrifying otherworldly being who has a unique way of tormenting his victims." -Amy Charles, BBC

"At a time when Netflix is facing more questions than ever over sustainability, Stranger Things 4 will likely provide a temporary security blanket. All those minutes of content driving an established blockbuster should give the company ample bragging opportunities in terms of viewer metrics and minutes watched. But along with the streamer’s general direction these days, Season 4 feels like it’s been designed to produce good data rather than quality entertainment. The algorithm once heralded for so much of Netflix’s success and derided for ignoring the human factor certainly feels present here, as any remaining strangeness gets usurped by formula." -Ben Travers, IndieWire

"At the very least, the horror is fun, building up to some pretty terrifying sequences and vicious kills. The mechanics of the new monster are delightfully eerie as it plunges its victims into nightmarish hallucinations, but it, too, suffers from terribly cliche dialogue. That’s the downside of having a humanoid monster — what scary things can it say that have not been said a million times before? And the new characters add a splash of flavor." -Petrana Radulovic, Polygon

The first half of Stranger Things 4 lands on Netflix this Friday — May 27. Watch the first eight minutes hereVol. 2 premieres Friday, July 1.

If you're looking for more horror, check out the new Firestarter in theaters and on Peacock, along with SYFY's Chucky series also streaming on Peacock.