Ah yes, here’s when that plot begins to thicken. With Chapter One establishing a nice foundation, Chapter Two lets the horror fly; the demonic entity introduced in “The Hellfire Club” gets ample screen time – along with the name Vecna (after the all-powerful dark wizard of Dungeons & Dungeons lore). Vecna’s menace wouldn’t be as powerful, of course, if not for the investment in the would-be human victims. Chapter Two further explores the fears and hopes of the characters, bouncing between the Hellfire Club in Hawkins and the Byers family in southern California.
Director: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Writers: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Caitlin Schneiderhan
Runtime: 75 minutes
US Release: May 27, 2022; Netflix
Following the mysteriously brutal death of Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), both the police and Hawkins basketball team are on the search for outcast Eddie (Joseph Quinn). Eddie was with Chrissy the night before, watching in confused horror as she was possessed and killed by Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower); afterwards Eddie fled the scene in terror with only Max (Sadie Sink) seeing him leave.
With no one else to turn to, Max shares this knowledge with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo). She’s ready to hand Eddie over to the police but Dustin urges discretion. Not only is he fond of Eddie (who serves as the Hellfire Club’s Dungeon Master), but based on the grotesque manner of Chrissy’s death, the teens develop a bad feeling. Based on previous experiences, they realize they need to question Eddie themselves to determine the true nature of the crime.
Meanwhile, on the west coast, El (Millie Bobby Brown) and Will (Noah Schnapp) anxiously await the arrival of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who is coming to visit. Mike believes El is adjusting well, but the reality is starkly different: she’s been withering under the extreme bullying of Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin), the archetypal ’80s popular girl. While putting on a brave face for Mike at a local skating rink, El’s last straw is broken when Angela taunts the memory of supposedly-dead Hopper; the bully gets a skate in the face from El, who does what she can now that she is without powers.
The mystery of Chapter Two is propelled forward, however, by Nancy (Natalia Dyer). She’s on the case for the local paper, accompanied by fellow journalist Fred (Logan Riley Bruner). Together they investigate the trailer park where Chrissy was found. Nancy meets Eddie’s uncle (Joel Stoffer) who reveals a dark secret about the town: that a man named Victor Creel had murdered his family many years ago in the same manner in which Chrissy had been found. Creel, however, has been locked up in the asylum ever since. While Nancy listens, Fred is afflicted by the same psychic torment as the doomed cheerleader; he stumbles into the forest where he confronts the scene of a fatal crash he had recently caused. Fred runs but doesn’t get far before Vecna corners and slays him the same as Chrissy.
Stylistically, “Vecna’s Curse”, leans harder into the Nightmare on Elm Street vibes teased in Chapter One. This doesn’t detract from the horror; in fact, it reminds you that Stranger Things is fundamentally built on nostalgia for 1980s horror. The emulation, therefore, can be seen more as homage than ripoff; credit to the Duffer Brothers for riding that line so well.
Chapter Two continues the atmospheric strengths of episode one, but falters slightly with the characterizations of our California ensemble. It’s no surprise that Mike, El, and Will continue to define their relationships; based on Chapter Two’s script, however, they sound like broken records. While 1980s American cinema is as defined by teen dramas as horror, the Duffer Brothers are clearly more adept at writing the latter. With that said, there are so many plot lines in season four, that you’re never focused on the trio for long. Before you know it, you’re back in Hawkins where you wish you were the whole time anyways.
by Vincent S. Hannam