Down home in Hawkins, Indiana, the kids are all right. Terrified, but all right.
The kids in Stranger Things have been through a lot. Coming of age is scary enough, without having your town terrorised by otherworldly monsters, and witnessing your friend use her superpowers to telepathically close a portal to another dimension.
That's where we left the kids of Hawkins at the end of season two of Stranger Things. After Eleven closed the gate to the Upside Down, banishing the menacing shadow monster, the kids then returned to normal life, navigating the awkward social politics of their first school dance. But in season three, a sinister threat re-emerges to threaten the safety of the town again. "Welcome to our show," jokes Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas.
"This is Stranger Things," says Sadie Sink (Max). "We don't have a show without that."
Max was a new arrival to Hawkins in season two, who made fast friends with Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Lucas and Will – and as a result, was pulled into the terrifying fight against the interdimensional monsters that attacked Hawkins, Indiana. You would think one would move towns after such a traumatic experience – so what's keeping Max there?
"Honestly, I have no idea," says Sink. "I think it's possibly due to the fact that she doesn't tell her parents about anything – we don't see her parents, they're just not involved. Most of the parents aren't involved, they don't really know about all the supernatural stuff that's happening in Hawkins, so she has to stay."
And despite the life expectancy in Hawkins being considerably lower than anywhere else in Indiana, this might be the first time Max has found a sense of home. "Where we left off in season two, she's made it known to [her brother] Billy that she's not going to be messed with anymore, and Mike has accepted her into the party whether he likes it or not, but she's much more established in Hawkins, and so she's more comfortable.
"It seems like everything is back to normal, and that she's just found a good group of friends, and that nothing else supernatural or scary is going to happen."
While Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) initially seemed perturbed by Max's arrival in season two, the two girls form a sisterly bond in season three. It was a dynamic Sink relished exploring, as Max is able to help Eleven come out of her shell and try reclaim the regular upbringing she was deprived of.
"The whole rivalry thing – I think you see that a lot with film and television, putting two girls up against each other," she says. "So I'm glad that they chose to not go in that direction, to not make them two girls who are just fighting, arguing, getting jealous of each other, but rather they chose to have a strong bond. I think that was a good choice and I don't think we see that often."
Max's volatile relationship with Billy is also explored further this season – with a particular confrontation in episode four delving deep into the nature of their relationship, and the way its outwardly toxic appearance may conceal a deeper bond.
"They do hate each other, and the relationship isn't the best as far as typical brother and sister loving relationships are supposed to be like," says Sink, "but in the end, they've known each other their entire lives, so they still have a connection even though they don't get along."
It's a moment of intense emotional power, in which Sink is able to flex her acting muscles and display an affecting level of vulnerability. It's this character-focused work that keeps Stranger Things grounded; for every monster these kids have to fight, they're still as scared as anyone would be staring evil in the face.
"It's always good to make sure that every character has vulnerability," says Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin). "With these situations, just because you were scared before doesn't mean that you're any safer than you were the first time. Without vulnerability, there really isn't a lot of sympathy for any character, so I think it's really important how everyone is terrified."
Most terrified of all, perhaps, is Will (Noah Schnapp), probably the unluckiest kid in Hawkins, if not the entire United States. After being kidnapped by the Demogorgon in season one and possessed by the Shadow Monster in season two – and as his friends pair off in relationships – he's feeling more isolated than ever.
"It's a lot to deal with for Will in season three," says Schnapp. "He's suffered from PTSD, and going into season 3, the monster's kind of still lingering inside of him and he's still not fully better yet. And all the kids are kind of mature, and he was in the upside down when they were all maturing, and he's kind of behind in a way, and he's not ready to grow up."
As the character most in danger from the supernatural realm, Schnapp embraces the unique acting challenge these scenes provide. "It's definitely tough sometimes," he says. "When I was screaming at the monster, there was nothing to act off of, and half of the time you don't even know what the monster looks like. It can be tough but you have to put yourself in those shoes."
But in Stranger Things, each of these young stars are acting outside their reality. The series calls back to a range of classic films from the late 20th century – E.T., Jaws, Alien – but none of these kids were alive until the 21st. "I knew nothing about the 80s," says McLaughlin, "but then when we started, I learned about the movies and the music."
"After we all filmed the show I feel like we know a lot more than we realise now," says Matarazzo. "But it really isn't an element that we tend to focus on too much. It's really all about the characters."
Who: Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo
What: Stranger Things season 3
When: Premieres tomorrow