By Natalie Rich
This Halloween season, streaming services came prepared with new categories and original content. Hulu’s service unveiled their “Huluween” category, featuring their original movie “The Body.” Netflix released a horror series titled “The Haunting of Hill House” in addition to a bizarre Halloween baking show called “The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.” However, it is their new series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” that truly embodies the spooky season.
For those seeking a remake of the early ’90s sitcom “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” or the Sabrina comics, don’t watch. The lead characters are still the Spellman women, but the similarities stop there. The show, which released on Netflix on Oct. 26, exists in the same universe as the CW show “Riverdale,” which is a dark, gritty reboot of the original comics. “Chilling Adventures” is built on the same themes. Sabrina Spellman, played by Kiernan Shipka, is a half-witch, half-mortal being raised by her aunts Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis), after her parents’ tragic death. Sabrina is almost 16, which means she must undergo a “dark baptism” wherein she signs her name into the Book of the Beast and becomes a full witch and servant of Satan. Sabrina doesn’t want to leave her mortal life behind to submit herself to the Dark Lord, so she flees the ceremony and forges her own path.
That choice is emblematic of one of the most compelling aspects of the show: Sabrina, as with all the female characters, wants power on her own terms, not as given by a man. Most of the cast is also female, which is a laudable change for YA television. Sabrina and her friends start a feminist group at their school after her friend Susie, who is trans, is bullied by football players. Miss Wardwell, Sabrina’s mysterious teacher, is subject to no man, not even the campy and creepy High Priest of their coven, Faustus (Richard Coyle). Even her aunts, who accept the patriarchy of their unholy church, do what they can to help Sabrina in her quest for freedom of choice.
Kiernan Shipka is formidable as Sabrina, and all of the actors do well in the balancing of the campy and the legitimately terrifying. A few standouts among the cast are Prudence and Ambrose. Prudence, played by Tati Gabrielle, who with every cut of her eyes and pouty sigh perfectly punctuates the often formal language that the witches speak in, is perfectly cast. And Ambrose, played by Chance Perdomo, flies through his scenes with whimsy and energy. For hardcore Sabrina fans, Ambrose is a brand new character with a familiar backstory: he is a warlock on house arrest. Originally this storyline belonged to Salem, a talking cat, but in this gritty remake there is no room for sassy felines. Instead, Salem is an enigmatic and powerful familiar, and Ambrose takes on the role of the witty prisoner. In fact, the only dead weight in the show is Sabrina’s mortal boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), who acts as nothing more than a bland obstacle for Sabrina.
The show handles the mixture of camp and horror well, if you can get past the ridiculous phrases like “Satan-willing” or “unholy hell!” Images of Salem-esque witches hanged from a tree haunt the show, and flashing visions of the bloody and terrifying Satan remind the audience that there is a very real and palpable foe ahead for Sabrina, one who has been playing the game for much longer.
Overall “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a fun spooky romp with a surprisingly mature message about female empowerment. Who runs the (under)world? Witches.