Add the powerful magic of witchcraft to teenage angst, and you’ve got the recipe for the original Netflix series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” We have to admit, the hormones of a 16-year-old are pretty chilling on their own, but Sabrina’s powers take it to another level.
If you like a scary story full of witches, warlocks, and demons, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” fits the bill, and then some. The story gets its inspiration from the Archie comics, with the same title, that took Sabrina into the netherworlds of darkness.
By the way —
Both the comic and the original Netflix series are frightening tales that bear almost no resemblance to the cute, lighthearted “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” from the late 1990s television series. So if that’s what you think you’re getting into with this incarnation of the story, think again.
Fair warning, as much as we try to avoid them, spoilers happen.
Must Be the Season of the Witch
Part 1, with 11 episodes, released in October 2018. Part 2, with nine episodes, just hit Netflix April 2019, with a total of 36 episodes and an unholy Christmas special.
“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” kicks off with possession, a wicked birthday party AKA dark baptism, and a visit from the Dark Lord. All the mayhem makes the expression “chilling” seem like a bit of an understatement. As they repeatedly say in the series — hail Satan.
Yes, Greendale and Riverdale are still the towns where the magic happens. Sabrina’s aunts have the same names and similar personalities to Sabrina’s aunts in the old tween TV series —
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Kiernan Shipka plays Sabrina in this version. She’s a powerhouse who’s capable of conjuring great depths of emotion. She uses her talents to give us a fully rounded character who is struggling with the polarities of good and evil.
Shipka is well-known for her role as Sally Draper in the 2007 series “Madmen.” Even then there was a maturity to her craft that made her a delight to watch in action.
As Sabrina, Shipka brings a new level to teenage angst as she fights the power —
In both the human and witch realms.
Sabrina isn’t a drama queen, however, so when she gets passionate, you know there’s going to be hell to pay. On her 16th birthday, she must choose between being human or wholly embracing her witchy heritage. The question is, which will she choose?
But that’s just part of the story —
Sabrina’s dual nature means she’s in a constant internal battle. The result is that she doesn’t always make the best choices, even when she’s trying to do the right thing.
Half humans need friends too
Although Sabrina is an outspoken teenager with a strong will backed by magic, she’s still a teenager navigating the usual high school challenges. She’s head over heels for Harvey Kinkle, played by Ross Lynch.
Unfortunately, Shipka and Lynch don’t have a lot of chemistry, so it makes it somewhat difficult to believe that they’re deeply connected. But in the long run, that doesn’t matter much because as the story goes, their relationship doesn’t have a chance in, well, you know.
Not to mention that Sabrina must keep an emotional distance to some extent to protect her human friends.
Sabrina’s best friend, Rosiland Walker (played by Jaz Sinclair) has some magic happing of her own. Sinclair shines both as the character who must deal with physical and spiritual challenges and as the actor who brings that character to life. Rosiland has a beautiful slow arc that draws us in and gives us a reason to be invested in her story.
That’s not to say that she isn’t just as full of teenage angst as the rest of the high school. She’s an activist and committed to fighting the injustice she sees at Baxter High. But there’s even more to her than the need to fight for what’s right. She has a gift that is also a curse.
One intriguing aspect of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is that the story explores social issues through the character’s eyes. Susie Putnam, played by Lachlan Watson, is an excellent example. Watson takes on the role of a non-binary person who was born a girl.
Susie wants to play basketball on the boy’s team and change their name to something that makes more sense to who they are on the inside. If that’s confusing to you, imagine how they feel. This Netflix original series allows us to observe the real struggles endured by those people who are different from what society considers “normal.” Susie has a story that develops in a way that makes a vulnerable yet strong and likable character.
What’s more —
According to IMDb, Lachlan Watson draws from real life experience to portray this character. Brilliant!
We are family
Miranda Otto as Zelda Spellman and Lucy Davis as Hilda Spellman are Sabrina’s aunts who, according to legend, take her in and raise her after her parent’s death. The truth is, that’s not precisely how Sabrina came to be living with the two witches. Though they are family.
Zelda and Hilda couldn’t be more different. It’s that contrast in their characters that make them a joy to watch. While Zelda is a devil-worshiping, cigarette-smoking witch, Hilda is kind of goofy and entirely loveable. It’s hard to think of her as being one of Satan’s followers; she’s more of the doting aunt who has a heart of gold.
Zelda gets annoyed with her sister often and tends to kill Hilda when she can no longer take her sister’s sweet personality. Fortunately for us, Hilda doesn’t stay dead for long.
But wait, there’s more —
Ambrose Spellman, played by Chance Perdomo, is Sabrina’s cool and sophisticated cousin who helps her come to terms with her dark side.
Too bad for Ambrose he has a reverse character arc that takes him down, changing his confident exterior into something entirely different. When he gets involved with Father Blackwood and the Academy of Unseen Arts, it’s all downhill for Sabrina’s loyal cousin.
A Witchy Calling
Sabrina Spellman starts out in Part 1 as a somewhat innocent child who’s about to make a transition that she doesn’t fully understand. We know her father was the head of the Church of Night, a patriarchal house of devil-worship, which is now run by Father Faustus Blackwood, in an excellent portrayal by Richard Coyle.
By Part 2, Sabrina is used to the idea of being a full-fledged witch. She seems to have let go of those pesky human feelings that hinder one when they’re in service to Satan. In fact, she is fully committed to becoming the High Priestess of the Church of Night and making some serious changes.
You can bet the patriarchy isn’t going to like this idea.
Forget teenage angst it’s time to embrace the magic
In Part 2, Sabrina leaves Baxter High and distances herself from her human friends, while she takes up studies at The Academy of the Unseen Arts. She also trades Harvey in for a warlock boyfriend, Nicholas Scratch, played by Gavin Leatherwood. These two have some chemistry, although we’re never sure what Nicholas has in mind.
Now we really begin to wonder who Sabrina Spellman is and if she is another of the Dark Lord’s puppets or if she is something else entirely.
Which Witch Is Which?
It’s hard to tell which way Sabrina’s genetics will take her. On the one hand, she’s mortal and connected to the world of humans through her close-knit group of friends. On the other hand, Satan compels her.
She continues to battle within herself while at the same time embracing her growing power.
Along with her Aunt Zelda, we know Sabrina is committed to get rid of Father Blackwood and bring the church into the 21st century.
What this means is the rise of witches and the downfall of the patriarchy. What we don’t know is how the hell she’ll battle Satan.
It’s all in the set
If the acting doesn’t grab you — which would surprise us — then the set design will undoubtedly get your attention.
From the interior of the Spellman’s haunted mansion to the vast hallways of The Academy of the Unseen Arts, every little detail is exquisite. Giant statues, magical incantations with striking visuals, and costumes all set the mood.
Sabrina has some spectacular backdrops as she grows into her witchcraft. In one particularly dramatic scene, she levitates and demonstrates the strength of her capabilities, sending fear through all who observe her.
No wonder, when Satan shows up, we don’t question that this is the embodiment of evil.
Will Good Triumph Over Evil?
At its core, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a coming-of-age story. The difference between Sabrina and the rest of us as she approaches adulthood is that the choice between good and evil is a lot more evident.
This Netflix series original is full of teenage angst, and the adults are full of it as well. Everyone is struggling with choices that affect their lives and the lives of those around them. In the end, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” has a lot to say about society. The story explores not only our feelings about ourselves but the way we see and judge others without having the complete picture.
Sabrina also teaches us tolerance and gives us food for thought about the magic we may be able to accomplish in the mundane world of humans.
Featured Image: Promotional Photo via IMDb