Stranger Things Experience a satisfying, engaging immersive journey

Portlands studio turned into Hawkins, IN, science labs

What: Stranger Things: The Experience
Where: Cinespace Studio, 8 Unwin Ave.
When: Now, until TBA.
Highlight: The 3D beasts flying at you are unbelievably believable. Yipes!
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Great production value and a decent narrative propel this Stranger Things tribute that truly is more of an experience than an homage.

THINK OF THE NEW STRANGER THINGS EXPERIENCE installation — which opened this week down in the currently dystopian Portlands — as a super-cool, super-elaborate Disney ride blended with those “immersive” experiences that were one of the many strange byproducts of COVID-19 restrictions.

Or perhaps it will remind you of those all-in theatrical productions where the viewer follows actors from room to room and becomes part of the show.

The Experience is based on Netflix’s Stranger Things series, a show so popular it relaunched an ’80s music star’s career, among other bits of magic. If you’re a fan of the show, you don’t need me to summarize it and if you’re not a fan, why would you go to see this?

If you’re not a join-in kind of person, this might not be the event for you because you’ve got to play along to get the full fun on offer.

Cinespace studio has been sectioned off into various key locations in the Stranger Things universe and, upon arrival, you and various groups are welcomed as members of a sleep study by actors playing employees of Hawkins labs. Just like entering the Haunted House at Disneyland, if you’re ready to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride (in this case, metaphorically), then fun awaits.

You and fellow Experiencers are then shuffled through a variety of rooms and assigned a few not-especially-daunting but team-building tasks.

The tension gently increases through each part of the journey, with full flashes of mayhem descending once the experience moves to the lab’s central control room. You’ll be convinced actual snarling demodogs are hurling themselves at the control room’s plate glass with the intention of tearing you apart.

We squeeze through the daunting “lips” at one end of the control room and into the Upside Down, putting on 3D glasses as we find ourselves outside the lab and dealing with panicked cast members — on video — asking for our help as various creatures emerge. The 3D is magnificent and I resolve to not be as “jumpy” as fellow Experiencers who are all bobbing and weaving as demodogs and more “lunge” at us. However, even my steely determination disappears at a particularly realistic lunge from an especially realistic-looking and lunging slimy beast.

Lots of yelps and giggles from the assembled, ducking-and-dodging group and we eventually stumble our way out to inevitably “exit through the gift shop.” Stranger Things snacks, merch and selfie stations all await at the end of an about 45-minute trip through the Stranger Things Experience.

At $49 per person, plus parking and/or transport, it’s not an inexpensive “experience” but feels like good value with high production values and a truly engaging experience. While other ostensibly immersive experiences are more of a travelling museum exhibit, Stranger Things Experience really is immersive, an engaging and entertaining trip inside the twisted world of Hawkins, IN, in the ’80s.