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Review: Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience

Of the many attempts to create a Covid-safe drive-through attraction, the Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience appears to be the most successful, having outlived the Halloween 2020 season and extended its run no less than five months into 2021; however, there is little to explain the remarkable popularity beyond the cult appeal of its namesake Netflix television series.

The live-action presentation certainly deserves credit for its elaborate production values and clever use of a parking structure to create an immersive environment, but the journey through this world provides more fan service than scares, leaving the uninitiated puzzled as if they had tuned in to the season finale without having watched any previous episodes. Non-fans should binge-watch, read the Cliff notes, or bring along a well-informed enthusiast to act as a guide.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience Review: Starcourt Mall
Stranger Things Drive-Through Review
Waiting outside the Starcourt Mall…and waiting…and waiting…

The Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience begins with a stop at Starcourt Mall, where live actors present a jokey but not very funny ’80s style dancer-cize event. This seems to exist mostly for timing purposes – cars enter the parking structure in discrete groups, not in a continuous trickle – so the scene goes on – and on and on – until it’s time to let in the next batch of automobiles. The delay feels interminable, and the scene does little to setup what follows, in terms of either tone or narrative.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience Review: Level by Level

Once you escape from the mall, you enter the parking structure and proceed up several levels where you are directed to park at multiple junctures where scenes play out. This approach definitely yields something more than a mere drive-through with actors jumping from around corners, justifying the designation of a “drive-into experience.”

With limited but strategically placed decor, the structure does a good job of simulating a sinister installation housing dark scientific secrets, and the soundtrack pumped through your car’s stereo further immerses you into the scenes. Other sections, with gnarly branches suggesting an outdoor setting are less convincing.

Stranger Things Experience Review
The parking structure does a decent job passing for a sinister secret installation.

The first stop is memorable thanks to intense performances by authoritarian stormtroopers eyeing you malevolently through the windshield; without giving away too much some characters from the series show up, and eventually there is a monster. But then…the scene keeps going without adding much. A later scene, where you essentially stop and watch a video for several moments, is less engaging, though it does call for a little audience participation at the end.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Review
The big finale, with projection, lighting, and levitation effects.

The big finale takes place on the upper level, which has been transformed into essentially an uber-wide movie screen, where much of the action plays out while live actors run around on a stage in front, their movements creating what almost amounts to a ballet. There is some impressive wirework to simulate levitation, but the effect is somewhat spoiled by overuse. Fortunately, the lights, sounds, and spectacle provide a big finish – though not quite a satisfying conclusion, since the attempt at presenting a narrative never really comes off.

After that, you head back down the levels of the parking structure, passing a photo op and an opportunity to purchase Stranger Things merchandise. And then, it’s back into the real world…

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience Review: Conclusion

There is much to enjoy in the Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience, but the overall effect is somewhat enervating. The problem is not so much whether you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the series as whether you can tolerate the longueurs separating the highlights. The attempt to stretch a handful of great moments into an hour-long event leaves the result stretched thin. You drive; you stop; you wait for something to happen; something happens – and keeps happening; then you drive again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Stranger Things Halloween Review
The moody lighting is nice, but the slow drive between scenes kills the pace.

Consequently, Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience never builds up much momentum. It is (ironically, considering its source material) episodic. Some episodes are better than others, but they add up to less than the sum of their parts.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience is not the worst drive-through type event we visited during the pandemic, – the finale is elaborate enough to leave visitors feeling they got their money’s worth – but overall this drive-into haunt is less effective than the walk-through versions seen at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Ultimately, the Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience¬†is best-suited for the hardcore fans will to wait to wait for the good stuff.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience Rating

Bottom Line

Nice stunts, amazing effects, and intense performances create many memorable moments in The Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience, but the slow, episodic pace prevents the pieces from adding up into a satisfying whole.

The Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience continues at Skylight ROW DTLA, 777 S. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021. Tickets are currently on sale through through May 29, but the  official website hints that the run may be extended into June 4. Get more info here: strangerthingsdriveinto.com.

Stranger Things Drive-Into Experience Review: Photo Gallery

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.