Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”
Even with Christmas displays and products already gracing department stores and media, Netflix managed to sneak in its last Halloween series — one which embodies Halloween and all of its true horrors. In the Netflix original series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” we are introduced to a new type of Sabrina Spellman. Gone is the sweet and hilarious “teenage witch” television show, featuring the effervescent Melissa Joan Hart and her two well-meaning but kooky aunts, which we all grew up with. This new series is based on the comic book of the same name, created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. Filled with horror, blood and many sacrifices, the series, appropriately named “chilling,” gives shows like “American Horror Story” and “Riverdale” a run for their money.
“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” follows 16 year-old half-witch, half-human girl Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) as she tries to navigate between her two lives. On the mortal side, she has her best friends, Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson) and Rosalind Walker (Jazz Sinclair) and her sweet boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). They conquer their hometown of Greendale like any other 16 year-olds would, with wonder and a dash of angst. On her witch side, Sabrina is raised by two aunts, Zelda Spellman (Miranda Otto) a devout witch and a member of the Church of the Night and her more gentle sister Hilda Spellman (Lucy Davis). Trying to decide if she wants to leave her mortal life behind to literally sign her soul over to the “Dark Lord” via the “Book of Beasts” is a harder choice than Sabrina thought. While she’s got a good heart, she’s still a teenager and she makes mistakes. However, in her case, those mistakes can have deadly consequences for those around her.
While this show is mainly about Sabrina and her trials between the two worlds, there are many other characters who help carry the plot. Between her housebound cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) and a surprising ally in the deceitful form of a teacher, Sabrina tries to balance her supernatural powers with a normal teenage life.
To Binge or Not to Binge?
Here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a sense of nostalgia to recall the endearing show you’ve known before, this show isn’t for you. It’s very much a satanic spin on the original’s coming-of-age story. The characters, the content and the trials of the series are much different than those of its predecessor or really any other horror-inspired show that has come before. “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” explores many dark topics, and at times it takes a refreshing approach to this kind of material. It tries to cover lots of different and important subjects in a single season, and with ten episodes all spanning about an hour, it’s not a show you can simply have on in the background.
I was particularly impressed by the amount of research and thought that went into creating the series. A great deal of sensitivity is present in every episode and behind the scenes. The show’s production staff includes several real-life pagans, so it doesn’t aim to glorify satanic rituals and practices. The characters themselves are intriguing. Susie Putnam is a non-binary character. Ambrose Spellman is a British pansexual person of color. Zelda Spellman represents a devoutly religious person. One of the very first episodes confronts feminism. Another later episode discusses censorship and banned books. Along with the themes of abuse, bullying, wedlock, patriarchy, hazing and illness, this show depicts themes that are rarely seen on television. Unfortunately, taking on this many topics may not have been the right approach. The series tries to confront too much at once, making many serious issues seem trivial without meaning to. In my opinion, the varying subject matters could be developed better, but that’s not to dismiss the efforts that this show makes.
To be honest, I had to force myself to finish the season. The only thing I found genuinely interesting about it were the characters of Harvey and Sabrina themselves, but that’s because I enjoy romance. I would say it’s binge-worthy if you like dark shows. It’s binge-worthy if you’re okay with half-assed attempts at broad representation. However, if you’re looking for a good, unique approach to witchcraft, this show has it in spades. This is witchcraft like we have never seen it before in popular media. It’s accurate and haunting, and it represents to at least some degree what life might be like for someone in Sabrina’s shoes. The characters are perhaps the only triumph to the show.
Unfortunately, these few bright spots don’t counteract the series’ numerous downfalls. The filming style, which often blurs images around the edges of the frame, is often distracting. Despite the show’s supposed feminism, most of the witches and demons alike in the story are still willing to do anything for a man — in this series’ case, it’s the Dark Lord. In moments like this, the show contradicts what it is trying to say for the sake of continuing the plot. It takes a while to get into the show and it’s extremely aggressive in lots of areas, but it may be worth a single watch for horror fans. I personally hate these types of scary shows, but I liked watching Harvey and Sabrina, so I stuck with it.
Best Episode: Season 1, Part 9 “The Returned Man”
Similar Shows: “Charmed,” “Riverdale” and “American Horror Story”
Trigger Warnings: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” has an overwhelming amount of triggering content. The show features death, blood, mental illness, flashing lights, gore, large amounts of terror, hysteria and violence. There is sexually explicit material, including an orgy scene. There is a scene with graphic cannibalism as well. There is one scene in an episode that depicts a close-up of a lynched black woman and other scenes show women who have been hung. There is a scene containing self-flagellation. There are several frightening scenes featuring demonic possession. I cannot stress this enough: this show is extremely graphic. Please watch it with caution.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”
Available to stream on Netflix
10 episodes, a little over 9 hours