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Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience
Photograph: Courtesy Netflix/Fever

Here’s what it’s like to drive into the Upside Down at L.A.’s new ‘Stranger Things’ experience

Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience has set up at ROW DTLA.

By
Michael Juliano
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The just-opened Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience has taken over the parking garage at ROW DTLA, and it’s already staggeringly sold out through the end of the year. As of publication, the earliest date you can even buy tickets for is in February of 2021—so you’re likely either already committed to going or not quite ready to plan something four months ahead.

But whether you’re looking to ease your FOMO or weigh your future purchasing decisions (it’s worth noting that tickets start at $69), we think there are a few things you should know first about the remarkably polished though somewhat slow hour-long attraction.

Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience
Photograph: Courtesy Netflix/Fever

For starters, the event from Netflix and Fever pitches itself as neither a drive-through nor a drive-in, but a “drive into,” and that turns out to be a surprisingly accurate take—for better or worse (more on that later). You’ll start out with a high-energy pre-show in the parking lot that’s set against the backdrop of the Hawkins High School reunion in 1985 and a tour of the then-new Starcourt Mall. Afterwards, you’ll coast through Stranger Things-inspired sets in the parking garage with three extended stops along the way that mix actors, lighting effects, clips from the show, creepy decor and a whole lot of fog.

Secret Cinema, which handled the creative duties, has crafted a truly transformative space, especially when you consider all of the physical and public health restrictions they must be stuck with—it’s surreal when you stop and remember that this is all taking place where you used to park for Smorgasburg. That top-notch production extends to the traffic flow, as well, which was always orderly and easy enough to follow during our early-evening time slot. The audio is pretty superb, too; as show composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s familiar synth strains blare and walkie talkie chatter comes in, you kind of forget that you’re sitting in your car, tuned into the radio.

Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience
Photograph: Courtesy Netflix/Fever
Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience
Photograph: Courtesy Netflix/Fever

The drive-through aspects, whether spent listening to radio transmissions, climbing up a moody light tunnel or snaking through familiar locales, were some of our favorite bits, and we really wish there was more of that. But the drive-in portions, which each last around 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes ended up feeling uneventful. There are three major acts: one with chatty live actors and lots of lighting and fog effects set in the Russian labs; a snowy, thorn-filled one in the Upside Down that’s spent almost entirely in front of a small screen; and a final one that mixes together a bit of everything, with some particularly slick sequences that blend analog, digital and a little bit of acrobatics.

The pre-show, held in front of a neon-lined Starcourt Mall facade, offers—to slip into the ’80s setting for a moment—a pretty rad start. While you wait your turn to be waved along to the “drive-into” part (we sat munching on popcorn for a little over 15 minutes), you can order corn dogs on a stick and Scoops Ahoy, listen to Mr. Clarke spin ’80s tunes, play participatory games that’ll have you honking your horn and flashing your lights, and interact with other reunion attendees (actors outside of your window) who totally remember you from the wrestling team or science class. By the time the A.V. club kids come pedaling in and futzing around with walkie talkies, you’ll feel pretty sold on the straight-from-the-show setting.

As for the story beats after that, the event organizers—and the radioed-in voice of in-universe investigator Murray Bauman—have asked us not to spill anything that happens. But honestly, we couldn’t even if we tried. If you’re a Hawkins diehard, expect a possibly-welcome clips-show–style refresher on the third season’s major arcs—which means a little less Spielbergian wonder and a lot more sci-fi conspiracy. On the other hand, if you’ve never seen the show and you’re just looking for something spooky to do from your car, we can’t imagine trying to make sense of its spliced-together (and pretty spoiler-heavy) snippets from the show. In either scenario, we kind of wish the experience had either leaned more heavily into a coherent, standalone story or a straight-up screening of an episode.

Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience
Photograph: Courtesy Netflix/Fever

After the final act, you can spiral straight out of the garage or make a pit stop at a delivered-to-your-door souvenir shop (T-shirts and hats cost $30, sweatshirts $55 and jackets $70), which also includes an expedited lane for VIP ticketholders. Speaking of: We were provided with a VIP pass to the experience, but our early 6pm arrival slot meant everything was moving pretty smoothly already, so it didn’t really get us in or out much quicker. We don’t think the included snacks and swag bag of some lower-cost collectibles will be enough to make up the price difference for most people, so we’d suggest sticking to a general admission pass early on in the night, if possible.

One last note: The event suggests it’s tailored for guests ages 13 and up, and though there’s really nothing terrifying, we’d say that’s an accurate assessment. Like the show, the drive into is satisfyingly atmospheric with bits of body horror and some PG-13 swearing. But for better or worse, there’s no need to worry about jump scares or your car being attacked—though you certainly will see characters pressed up pretty close to your window.

Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience is now open at ROW DTLA, with dates that currently run through March 2021. Tickets start at $69 for two people in one car.

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