CAUTION: STRANGER THINGS 2 SPOILERS AHEAD – PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK
In season one of Stranger Things, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) gets dragged into the Upside Down by the faceless, cannibalistic Demogorgon, and isn’t rescued again until the last chapter. He makes a few cameo appearances throughout the season during flashbacks and has a pretty unforgettable scene at the end of season one, chapter 7 when the Demogorgon finally finds him again. However, Schnapp’s character isn’t really seen much throughout the first season.
After the show debuted on Netflix, it was an unexpected hit and the young cast members were thrust into instant fame. Although nothing in the show would have happened without Will’s disappearance into the Upside Down, Schnapp was somewhat overlooked and understandably didn’t receive as much fame as the other four when season one ended.
However, now that season two of Stranger Things has come and gone, and I went back and binge-watched both seasons for a second time, I feel like Schnapp is vastly underrated for his role in the second season. Season two gives Will a lot more screen time, and his character is far more essential to the plot. However, even after his incredible performance in season two, it seems like he continues to be sidelined in light of the other four main child actors on the show – Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gatten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin.
Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the other kids in the show. The dynamic trio (Mike, Dustin and Lucas) are excellent actors and evolve all their characters flawlessly, and Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) is an incredible young actress despite her lack of serious on-screen dialogue (although she does have more than 47 lines in the second season). Despite the fact that the entire cast of the show is outstanding, Schnapp just absolutely nailed his role in season two, and, in my opinion, outshone the rest.
After being rescued by Joyce and Hopper, Will still struggles to maintain his grip on reality, flashing back and forth between the real-world and the dark, haunting landscape of the Upside Down, a mysterious, alternate dimension existing in parallel to the human world. Throughout the first few episodes of season two, every time Will is pulled into a vision of the Upside Down, he sees a giant, terrifying shadow-monster looming up through a stormy skyline. The shadow-monster (later named the Mind Flayer) eventually possesses Will when he bravely tries to stop running and confront the monster, and for the rest of the season is basically controlled by this otherworldly entity, causing him to lose control of his own thoughts and memories, spy on his friends and family for the Mind Flayer and make horrible decisions, like calling a pack of baby Demogorgons to attack his loved ones.
Throughout the entire season, Schnapp goes back and forth between a young, terrified teenager trying to keep control of his own mind, to an angry, raging, psychopath that lures a bunch of unsuspecting scientists to their deaths. The kid has some intensely emotional scenes: the sad outcast being bullied at school, the shocking moment that he turns around and confronts the Mind Flayer (see below), and the horrifying exorcism scene, complete with a hysterical Will trying to kill his mother while they burn the Mind Flayer out of him.
I mean, look at this kid! He had to shoot this scene standing in the middle of a football field, staring at nothing while pretending to be possessed by a giant shadow-monster. You can literally feel his raw terror through the screen. That’s incredibly impressive for such a young actor.
While all the actors in the show do a fantastic job of making their unusual circumstances seem authentic and relatable, Schnapp has the challenging task of being able to convincingly play the classic “possessed child” role. Will’s experience with the Mind Flayer is the driving factor to everything that the main characters deal with for the remainder of the season, so his performance needs to be flawless and believable. And he absolutely is. Aside from the scenes of possession and screaming, Will is also prone to fits of convulsions, sheer, primal terror and some seriously impressive evil, monster-influenced decision-making and long, spine-tingling stares.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Schnapp outlined some of his biggest challenges filming season two, including the fact that he lost his voice during the exorcism scene. The young actor spent hours studying old films and videos on exorcisms, possessions and otherworldly experiences to fully prepare for what his character was meant to face in the second season.
Millie Bobby Brown stole the show in season one with her role as Eleven and set the scene for the same emotionally-driven, painfilled, broken-but-badass performance that Schnapp now plays in this season. Schnapp finds a way to use his eyes (even his long, blank stares when the Mind Flayer is taking over) and facial expressions to constantly tug at the heartstrings of the viewers. Schnapp’s performance is so powerful and unforgettable that I can think of few other actors at any age that could play this role with such perfection. Hats off to this young actor; he definitely has a bright and successful future ahead of him