Review: Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Is Dark & Addictive
As the opening credits of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina roll, any images you might have had of the wholesome platinum blonde teenage witch of the iconic Archie Comics are quickly dispelled. They feature grisly artwork from the eponymous comic book series—a macabre take on the original Archie character, created by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa—that alludes to the horror and gore in store.
In the pilot episode, we’re introduced to an almost 16-year-old Sabrina (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka), who is half witch, half mortal, and lives with her aunts in the town of Greendale. The atmospherics feature predictably spooky trappings—think expansive woods, homes with a Gothic aesthetic, and a pet cemetary in the Spellman’s backyard.
This version of Sabrina is outspoken, decidedly ‘woke’ and a rebel with several causes. Her motley posse includes her sweetly naïve boyfriend Harvey Kinkle; the rebellious daughter of a minister, Rosalind; and gender non-conforming Susie.
Special shoutout to Sabrina’s quick-witted dandy of a cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), who has been bound to the Spellman house for the past 75 years as a punishment. While he starts out as a trivial side character, he quickly comes into his own with a quiet flamboyance that makes us root for a spin-off with him in the lead.
The premise of the show hinges around Sabrina’s 16th birthday. She has a far bigger decision to make on than most teenagers her age do. Namely, whether to sign her soul off to the ‘Dark Lord’—aka the Devil himself—on the occasion of her ‘Dark Baptism’, in exchange for her powers. The catch? She must give up her life in the mortal realm.
While her aunts—the sweet, bumbling Hilda, and reserved, wily Zelda—are keen on her officially becoming one of them, Sabrina has her reservations. Why, she asks, does she have to give up one life for the other? And more importantly, where’s her agency, her right to choose, in all of this?
Her decision to question age-old convention spawns several enemies. Sabrina must contend with plenty of colourful, devious characters: Miss Wardell (her high school teacher who is possessed by Satan’s handmaiden), Father Blackwell, the High Priest of The Church of the Night and principal of the School of the Unseen Arts (think a ghoulish Hogwarts); and the Weird Sisters (sinister versions of Mean Girls’ Regina George and co. with occult powers). Oh, and she must also take on Satan.
The various elements of horror—whether it’s the casual mention of cannibalism or scenes of supernatural occurrences—seem organic and offer genuine scares. Even elements whose purpose is mainly to emphasise the morbidity of the witching world—the Spellmans running a mortuary; the judges in the witches’ court being called ‘Your Dishonour’; regular exclamations of “Praise Satan!”—seem fairly natural and, for the most part, don’t come across as campy. If we were to nitpick, the choice of music—Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Black Magic Woman’ by Fleetwood Mac—sometimes feels trite.
At the outset, there’s a bit of universe-building that takes place, and the first couple of episodes do leave you questioning where all this is going. Episode 3 onwards, the show picks up pace, and a few well-timed revelations and strategically placed cliffhangers hint that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will probably be a binge-worthy watch.
This review is based on the first five episodes of season 1, which will be released on Netflix on 26 October.