Welcome one and all to Multiversity’s very own ‘Witching Hour,’ in which we take a look at Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Join me every Wednesday for a recap of the first season. Seeing as it’s Halloween, I think it’s the perfect time to turn off the lights, light some candles and cuddle up next to your cats as we dive into the series premiere. Warning: there are spoilers ahead.
1. This isn’t Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina
Those of us who grew up in the 90’s no doubt remember ABC’s Sabrina The Teenage Witch featuring rom-com teen star Melissa Joan Hart. This ain’t that show. The show I remember may share the same characters and, to an extent, the same premise (a young witch is torn between the mortal world of her high school friends and sweetheart, while her two witch aunts school her in the arts of magic), but that’s really all the two shows have in common. Where the 90’s show was a family friendly sitcom with quirky one liners, this new iteration is captial “D” Dark. Sure, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) still goes through high school with her handsome boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) and she’s still learning magic from her quirky aunts, but Netflix’s Chilling Adventures is just that, chilling. We see some pretty nefarious stuff within the first ten minutes. There are some pretty disturbing scenes. Where the 90’s show used gags such as love potions and a cat puppet, Chilling Adventures presents its narrative as a horror story, in which our main character must literally sign away her soul to the Devil. And while there may be some rhyming spells in this new rendition, it’s a far cry from the light-hearted comedy of the 90’s.
2. The Cast
We first meet Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina, Lynch’s Harvey Kinkle and their best friends Roz and Suzie portrayed by Jaz Sinclair and non-binary actor Lachlan Watson, respectively, at the movie theater. Sabrina, unsurprisingly is a bit of a horror nut as the four friends watch George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and later discuss. Sabrina’s attachment to the mortal world is heavily rooted in the bond she shares with her friends. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends, and deeply in teenage love. Lynch and Shipka’s scenes can come off as a little corny, if one were nitpicky, but thankfully, the show seems to have steered clear of the melodramatics so often found on the CW. That’s not to say the show is void of melodrama. It’s still there, just in a more tolerable way.
Sabrina confides in Missy Gomez’s Ms. Wardwell, a Baxter High teacher, who unbeknownst to Sabrina, has now been replaced with a creepy demon serving “The Dark Lord” and tries manipulating our protagonist, even sending a scarecrow monster after her in the last act. It’s clear that this demon has some deep hatred for Sabrina’s late father who broke witch law to marry Sabrina’s mortal mother and her motives will be fleshed out later.
Rounding out the cast are Sabrina’s Aunts Zelda, played by Miranda Otto and Hilda, portrayed by Lucy Davis. Sabrina’s imprisoned cousin Ambrose is played by Chance Perdormo. Zelda comes off as a cold, stickler for tradition. She’s wickedly pretentious, as is seen when helping Sabrina choose a familiar. (Sidebar: I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Salem. He has some cool moments in this episode and I hope they keep coming.) Lucy Davis’ Hilda is sweet and charming. She seems to only have Sabrina’s best interest at heart. Ambrose, we learn has been imprisoned within the Spellman household for the last 75 years, but so far, we don’t know why.
Speaking of years, it’s incredibly hard to place this series in a specific time period. Everything from the cars to the clothing would suggest a 60’s period piece. The Spellman household looks ancient, though very modern looking at the same time. It would make sense that the book is set in the 60’s given the source material is set in that era. However, Sabrina mentions fast moving zombies, a trope used much more in modern zombie media than in George Romero’s era. In later episodes, things become even more ambiguous when various pieces of technology start popping up later in the series. I feel like Robin Williams in Jumanji screaming at my TV “What year is it?!”Continued below
Each episode also has a dream like quality to it, especially when magic is being used. We see it when Sabrina curses her principal. Every scene in the woods is like this, with a sense that magic is afoot. It’s greatly shot and adds a wonderful effect.
4. The Music
So this show has an incredible soundtrack so far. Any good horror has some spooky music to back it up. Creedence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” plays just as Ms. Wardell nearly crashes her car into the demoness who will inherit her body. After Sabrina and Harvey declare their love for each other, Sabrina uses her powers on screen for the first time to play a record of “Be My Baby,” by the Ronnettes, a very cute scene. Donovon graces us with “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and of course a modern day “I Put A Spell On You” has to be thrown into the mix. This suggests an older time period, right? Keep watching. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Perhaps show runner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is trying to tell us that this story is timeless, that it can happen at any place and time.
5. Bad Omens
Did you know that an egg with red yolk in it means you are blood cursed? Me either. But that’s exactly what happens after Sabrina that a trio of witches bullies her in the forest. Throughout the episode, Sabrina encounters many other eerie omens. A bat crashes through her window and while at a pumpkin patch with Harvey, Sabrina has a disturbing vision of a possible future. A spooky dream. Given all these omens, Sabrina manages to stay level headed as Shipka portrays a young woman navigating both worlds seamlessly, showing that Sabrina’s mundane mortal life is just as important to her as her magical one. I’m sure that dichotomy will drive the central conflict forward throughout the whole series. Oh, there may be a witch hunter on the loose as well. From the look of things, Sabrina is likely to have her hands full as her “Dark Baptism” quickly approaches.
That’s it folks. This episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger so tune in next week for another magical adventure.