In keeping with the Halloween spirit and our recent run of reviews on new stuff, I just watched the first episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and it’s a witch’s tale done very right. And for those who haven’t watched it, here is your spoiler warning.
As basically almost a witch myself and a connoisseur of all things dark and magical, I can honestly say that I loved a lot of the first episode. The first episode is always the hardest; it sets the tone of the show and works overtime to build characters and relationships from nothing, so when a first episode is done right it makes me very hopeful for the rest of the series. With Sabrina, the first episode goes leaps and bounds in defining the characters that matter. Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka, is a teenager who has to make the decision of leaving her mortal life behind like her aunties want her to, or to go against the mould and not go through with her Dark Baptism. You can tell that she does stuff differently; she summons a wild familiar instead of getting one from a catalogue, she communes with the spirits for advice and she sticks it to guys that she’s had enough with. Her aunts are stuck in tradition; Zelda is a stone-faced bitch who only cares about how things can benefit her and those around her and Hilda is very caring and innocent, although I am almost certain she’s hiding a much more sinister nature. And Ambrose, for all the injustice the actor did to this character, is still at least mildly interesting in that he’s on house arrest for god only knows what and he’s more than happy to kill someone. On a whole, the cast really stands out for their own different reasons and, apart from maybe Zelda, have a clear space to grow over the series.
In going with the tone of the show, everything is done so right. The first interaction I had with it was listening to the ads which featured Blood in the Cut by K.Flay, who is one of my all-time favourite singers, and it really delivered on the dark power that the song exudes. You can tell the show is a horror and, although coming from the same production team as Riverdale, it delivers its horror a lot more fully. And the team has done their research! When the human friends were talking about the zombie movie they just watched as a symbol of the Cold War I wanted to shed tears of happiness because that was the original concept of the zombie; a worker that had the life sucked out of them because of the demands of capitalism. Witches are also very symbolically driven, usually by a lot of the darker sides of religion. Things like the Fruit of Knowledge, the Goat-Headed Demon and the Dark Baptism are all referencing Christianity, and the show references the Puritanical Witch Trials of Salem. Even things like the magic use a variety of spells, from Latin tongues to runes (drawing circles on the ground) to your good old Disney bippity boppity boo. There’s even voodoo magic included, showing that this universe is very diverse in its approaches to the supernatural. The horror is also delivered through classic horror cinematography; fast switches, the fish-eye lenses, the guttural roar of tigers and jump scares. As someone who doesn’t usually like horror, I’m surprisingly hooked on these aspects. It’s really fun breaking down the symbolism of the horrific elements because this show works so heavily in symbolism.
What didn’t work for me, though, was this weird romance storyline. I love Ross Lynch, I think he’s super attractive and I would definitely fall for him if I was a 16-year-old half-witch too. But it feels so bland and so forced that every time they switch back to it I get bored. It suffers from the same pitfall that Riverdale does in that when it suffers from generic relationship disease. Ross Lynch’s character is just another boring white dude with boring white dude problems and the problem of Sabrina leaving to become a full-fledged witch doesn’t make anything go anywhere. In all honesty, he sucks the magic out of the show (at least in the first episode, maybe he gets better I’ll keep you posted). Apart from that, some of the acting feels super clunky which is, again, Riverdale syndrome. However, when it really matters, the actors pull through and make the most of a good scene.
In all, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a really good, well researched and interesting show. It’s appropriately scary for what it’s meant to be and the writers have at least made an effort on getting their horror elements right. If you liked Sabrina the Teenage Witch but wished there was just that -little- bit more exploration of the witching side of things, then, from one witch to another, this is the show for you.