Winona Ryder can't believe how many years have passed since Stranger Things made its debut in July 2016.
"Can you believe that? I thought it was five [years]," the actor said in an interview with CBC News.
After a years-long hiatus, fans of the '80s-inspired science-fiction horror/drama series can make their return to Hawkins and the Upside Down this Friday, as Netflix releases part one of Stranger Things 4.
The first new instalment of the critically acclaimed series will feature seven of nine episodes. The last two episodes, including a finale that is almost 2.5 hours in length will be available to stream on July 1.
WATCH | Winona Ryder talks Stranger Things Season 4:
In a turn from previous seasons, Season 4 adopts a new horror-driven aesthetic.
The show's creators, Matt and Ross Duffer (professionally known as the Duffer brothers) have cited inspiration from iconic 1980's films like A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Alongside the change in look, Ryder says Stranger Things has remained fresh and exciting for fans through the consistent "beating heart" of the show.
"Even though unbelievable things are happening that you can't even fathom, [like] the alternate realities, [the] monsters," she added.
In the world of Stranger Things, set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Ind., a laboratory has created a gateway to an alternate dimension, "the Upside Down," allowing creatures from that world to abduct people and otherwise threaten the human world.
"The reason why we're doing these insane things is because of love. It's to try to save our beloved and also the world."
New season 'dives deeper'
The season kicks off six months after the events of the third season finale. For the first time in the series' run, its cast is split apart.
Although Ryder's character Joyce Byers saw Jim Hopper (David Harbour) appear to evaporate at the end of the third season, it turns out he is imprisoned and being tortured in Russia. She and Murray (Brett Gelman) hatch a plot to find him in the new episodes.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Will (Noah Schnapp) are in California with Joyce and Mike (Canadian Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucus (Caleb McLaughlin) are home in Hawkins.
WATCH | Trailer for new season of Stranger Things:
On top of its unthinkable storyline, the show tackles the authentic life experiences that the group of kids are going through.
"You see it in all of the storylines," Ryder said. "These kids that we've really gotten to know and their vulnerabilities … they're very human."
"When you're actually that age, you feel things and you feel pain and confusion just as intensely, if not more than grown-ups."
Mike and Dustin struggle with acceptance as they start high school, and Max (Sadie Sink) struggles and grieves her stepbrother Billy's death.
"[The new season] really kind of just dives deeper into some of the bigger questions that I think a lot of the fans have been asking. I think people are going to really be very satisfied with this season," Sink recently told Reuters.
Ryder praised her younger colleagues' performances.
"I mean, the kids are just incredible. The whole cast is incredible," she said.
In light of the recent elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Netflix announced on Thursday that it has added a content warning to the first episode of the new season. The premiere features graphic violence involving children in its first scene.
With the third season having been released in 2019, fans of the show have been long awaiting its return, which was delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, says the season's "massive" size explains the wait time.
"We're anxious to put it out there and we're excited for it to pay off," Matarazzo told Reuters.