Just like The Haunting of Hill House, I didn’t have any plan to review this new Netflix show, as I really am not an expert of TV series. In fact, I wasn’t even planning to watch it, but you know how these things go: my girlfriend wanted to give it a chance and I eventually gave in – as always.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is based on the Archie comic Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which has already been adapted to the screen in the late 90s as a fantasy/comedy for kids and young teens. The Netflix version, however, is aimed to young adults as it’s presented as soft-horror with some comedic elements and many Harry Potter-esque dark fantasy moments.
To be very clear from the get-go, I don’t think Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will go down in history as one of the best horror-related TV shows: it’s got flaws and its presentation and acting feel amateur and childish from time to time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every single episode and I hope they keep making seasons for as long as they can: a second season is already in the works and will come out in 2019, by the way.
As the title suggests, this TV show revolves around the chilling adventures of teenage half human/half witch Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka – The Blackcoat’s Daughter), who lives in Greendale, where witches in disguise live side by side with mortals (and tons of other magical beings), with her aunties Hilda and Zelda, and her cousin Ambrose.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The whole atmosphere, locations and setting are some of the aspects I appreciated the most about Sabrina, as they pull you in from the very first episode. Creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa nailed the look and feel of his project, building a world that’s set in no particular time (the characters use laptops but don’t have cell phones and wear old-fashion clothes) and feels surreal and grounded at the same time.
Even though I already criticised the acting in this review, I must say most of the characters – at least the main ones – are very well written and fleshed out: Sabrina, of course, goes through a lot in every episode and her arc is wonderfully explored in a way that’s full of grey areas; Hilda and Ambrose are such likeable characters, but the show doesn’t shy away from their dark side; Harvey – Sabrina’s boyfriend – is a sweetheart you can’t help but love to pieces; Sabrina’s high school friends are lovable, flawed and rich characters as well.
However, the best character in the show – for me, at least – is Zelda, played by Miranda Otto of The Lord of the Rings trilogy fame: her arc throughout the episodes is developed in such a way that she starts as a bitch (ahem, witch), caught up in her dogmatic beliefs and selfishness, but she becomes the best, most badass protagonist, always protecting Sabrina and treating her like an adult by the end of this first season. The creators really nailed Zelda’s character and did something with her most accomplished filmmakers would struggle with.
Yet, the subtlety of the horror elements in Sabrina is another aspect I should pinpoint: although this is clearly a show meant to be enjoyed ‘with the family’ – with no gore and little swearing to be found – some of the implications during certain episodes (with themes of betrayal, giving up on yourself for a dogmatic religious cult – whether it’s holy or unholy, sexual awakening, nasty torture…) are quite dark and disturbing when you think about what’s hidden underneath the surface.
Also, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seems to have a ‘female empowerment’ agenda going on: whether you agree or not with that, you can’t deny the sensitivity this is portrayed in the show with. I mean, regardless how honourable and worth-praising an agenda could be, you need to fit it into your movie (or series) in a delicate and subtle way, otherwise it’d come off as obnoxious. And I think Sabrina pulled that off beautifully.
In addition, most of the episodes are entertaining and enjoyable enough. Other than one about demonic possession – which, besides developing Zelda’s character accidentally, doesn’t serve any purpose in the bigger picture – there aren’t fillers and there’s a clear thread connecting all the ‘adventures’, making for a consistent pace that definitely helps you being hooked.
Nevertheless, as I said above, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has flaws both in regard to technical features and story. Speaking of the way the show is presented, the first few episode over rely on an annoying blurred filter which gives the scenes in those episode an amateur look, as though the creators where trying to force the idea of this universe being magical and mystical. Yet, some of ‘villains’ had a very conventional and obnoxious look to them: the possessed guy in episode 6, the demon in episode 5 and the Dark Lord in every episode seemed very cartoonish and painfully unscary.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the villains in Sabrina, most of them even have childish character traits, not just their look. In other words, unlike the ‘good guys’ who are complex and multifaceted, the villains here are completely one-dimensional, which makes them less threatening and way less believable.
All in all, though, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a show that most mainstream horror fans will thoroughly enjoy and, mostly, people who are into dark fantasy stuff will have a blast with. I can’t wait for season two to see what the next chilling adventures of Sabrina will be!
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (season 1) 7.5/10