A Netflix reboot of 90s classic Sabrina the Teenage Witch, now called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, takes on a much darker and aesthetic tone to the original series. Fronted by Kiernan Shipka (you’ll know her face from Mad Men), Sabrina is a half-witch, half-mortal teenager who must choose whether follow the Devil or be with her mortal friends come her ‘Dark Baptism’ on her 16thbirthday which will transform her into a full witch. This is a clean metaphor for growing up: will you choose to stay in the childhood realm where it is safe, and your mum makes you tea, or will you face the demons of the adult realm?
Sabrina lives in the small town of Greendale with her two aunts after her parents mysteriously die – sound unfortunate? Well Sabrina really does encounter a series of unfortunate events throughout her transition and decisions about attending the Academy for Unseen Arts (aka witch school).
“Despite moments of expositional dialogue, Netflix’s Sabrina takes on a much darker horror tone than the original chipper 90s series ever did. All the fun witch-stuff you want is there: strange going ons in the woods, blood curses, black cats, covens, magic – what is there not to enjoy?”
Despite moments of expositional dialogue, Netflix’s Sabrina takes on a much darker horror tone than the original chipper 90s series ever did. All the fun witch-stuff you want is there: strange going ons in the woods, blood curses, black cats, covens, magic – what is there not to enjoy? Apart from its slightly confused moments where it doesn’t quite know its tone as a coming-of-age show. It seems to touch on dark matter then skim over it fairly quickly, as if the writers are too scared to go there themselves – but for a first season, perhaps this can be excused. In the dark-age of 2018, we can take it. The show’s darkness is where its strength lies and where the aesthetics are the most effective. Who doesn’t love a bit of screen-distortion to create hands that are slightly too big and ominous smoke rising from the ground of your witch-house?
Performances from the cast as a whole are brilliant, though. Shipka is flawless and her aunts (played by Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto) are outstanding contrasting characters. Michelle Gomez who plays possessed Miss Wardell is red-lipped, seductive and intelligent who possesses every frame she enters too.
The visual style of the witch-spaces is maybe the strangest part of the show. What lets it down a little is the high-school spaces – it becomes hard to believe that Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) is any more of a character than just a boy she kisses sometimes. The dark tones of mortal life are swept over a little in favour of witch-life where the dynamics and struggles with identity between her close friends could be more interesting. Instead we catch ourselves craving the drama of the witch-side, where the depth and darkness is much more thought out and seductive.
But it is exactly the seductive nature of this world that makes the show binge-worthy. With a little more thought it could be exactly the show we need for this time of year – a dark feminist show with a nice cat in it.