Review: Flawed, but fun “Stranger Things Experience” pleases fans of the show


Jaden Gardiola

“The Stranger Things Experience” treats fans of the hit Netflix series to an interactive walkthrough revolving around the show’s plot. Located just north of Central London in Brent Cross, the walkthrough also includes a portion called “The Mixtape,” which entertains audiences with food, drinks, merchandise and ’80s references galore.

Jaden Gardiola, Reporter

I wonder if the Duffer Brothers ever imagined their ’80s retro, classic horror brainchild to become the most viewed Netflix show ever when they first pitched “Stranger Things.” Yet, here we are, over six years after the release of the show’s first season, and the catchy synth theme is still one of the most recognizable in television. I am just your average “Stranger Things” fan: I’m not completely obsessed with the show, nor what Vecna actor Jamie Campbell Bower’s daily hair and makeup routine were.

But, I’ve still watched every episode, waited eagerly for “Stranger Things 4” and have continued to wait for the show’s fifth and final season. 

Enter “The Stranger Things Experience,” inspired by the lasting success of the show following the release of its two-part fourth season. I first caught wind of the event from my aunt and uncle, also “Stranger Things” fans – apparently referred to as “Strangers.” Naturally, I was intrigued.

The experience is a 45-minute, semi-interactive walkthrough. Audiences enter Brent Cross Studios after walking past ads for Reebok sneakers at “Starcourt Mall” and fictional eateries from the show, before passing a sign welcoming them to small-town Hawkins itself. The concept of the walkthrough is simple enough and goes hand-in-hand with the storylines from all four seasons. You start as the subject of a sleep study from Hawkins Lab, which doubles on the outside as the town’s power and light station. 

Then, groups are assigned a colored wristband, which comes into play later on in the experience. You officially enter following a delightful intro video from actor Paul Reiser reprising his role as Dr. Sam Owens. In fact, most of the main characters from the series reprise their roles for the walkthrough, including Dr. Brenner and the seven children. The walkthrough works around the absence of much-adored actors like David Harbour, Joe Keery and Maya Hawke by tailoring the story to the kids. This storytelling decision makes the tone and feel of the walkthrough more lighthearted and fun as told through the perspectives of fan-favorites Eleven, Mike, Lucas, Will, Erica, Max and Dustin. 

One of the bigger things about the experience is its price tag, and that advice should be taken literally. At first glance, the attraction’s standard £41 adult ticket is not horribly over-priced for a 45-minute walkthrough. 

Firstly, four rooms just do not seem like enough – I was honestly expecting more, and for the experience to be longer. ”

But, the electric “Mix-Tape” section at the end of the experience begs to differ. It is an ’80s-filled, neon blasting, nostalgia trip. Fans are treated with sky-high £50 sweatshirts and semi-pricey glorified DiGiorno pizzas at the season four-themed Surfer Boy Pizza van. Of course, what’s probably the true money vacuum of the “Mix-Tape” is the bar, called “The Upside” after the show’s underworld dimension. It is the pinnacle embodiment of a theme park-style attraction. The entrance fee is almost never the day’s full  –and often hefty – price. 

The experience consists of four rooms, which poses three problems. Firstly, four rooms just do not seem like enough – I was honestly expecting more, and for the experience to be longer. 

Each participant is equipped with a colored wristband at the beginning of the experience, which corresponds to a certain pose you must hold when prompted by the voice of one of the children. However, none of it is truly interactive, because the walkthrough will move along regardless of whether or not you do the pose. Of course, it’s really good fun to strike one, but I would have loved the experience that much more if your actions truly made a difference in the progress of your walkthrough, like the style of an escape room. The event staff are obligated to stick to their appointment schedule, though. 

While generally space efficient, the size of the walkthrough is so compact that the volume of the audio from the next rooms carries through, and audiences are unfortunately able to hear the final room’s exciting sequences in just the second room, detracting from the overall suspense. Speaking of the final room, its 3D aspect gives the walkthrough its best asset yet. It emphasizes the horror of the Upside Down in a way that only 3D could: Demogorgons jump at you, then are stopped in mid-air only inches from your face by the heroic Eleven. The walkthrough’s exciting last room also boasts a thunderous forest, and, strangely, the surprise appearance of a real actress portraying the heroic Eleven while lip-syncing to Millie Bobby Brown’s voice, only for her to disappear near the end of the sequence to be replaced by a digital version of the real Millie Bobby Brown (yeah, it’s complicated).

It emphasizes the horror of the Upside Down in a way that only 3D could: Demogorgons jump at you, then are stopped in mid-air only inches from your face by the heroic Eleven.”

Finally, the essence of the whole experience is disconnected. It’s all generic dialogue, an okay series tie-in, and evidently, an extra paycheck for the series’ young leads. The exhibit leans too much on the blind acceptance of their cosplaying fans (I saw quite a few “Scoops Ahoy” employees in my time there). It is all fine, and it really is a fun way to spend your time, especially if you’ve watched the show. However, it was too much like a generic theme park attraction for me to care on any higher level, except this time you cannot just get back in line without shelling out another £41.

At the end of the day, the time I spent inside was really fun. Fans of the show will have a blast. Ultimately, however, it is not something I would do again. 

Too Long; Didn’t Read – Pay the price of admission at Universal Studios for access to one slightly above-average backlot walkthrough attraction. Grade: B-: not a must-do, but cool to do once.