Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Casts a Dark Spell

A strong-willed teenage girl, half witch and half mortal, must choose between the world of magic and the ordinary in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – ), the latest adaptation of the Archie Comics series Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Written and developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series embraces a much darker tone than previous incarnations. Its incredible style, intense visual effects and action, and talented cast keep its social justice subtext from becoming too annoying.

As Halloween and her sixteenth birthday approaches, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is torn between loyalty to her high school friends, Rosalind “Roz” Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), and her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), and loyalty to her family and the Church of Night. Sabrina’s aunts, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto), raised her after her parent’s died in a plane crash, and desperately want her to continue the family tradition, undergo the Dark Baptism, and sign her name in the Devil’s book.

Sabrina’s misgivings grow as she battles her patriarchal high school principal, Mr. Hawthorne, and a trio of witches called the Weird Sisters, who believe a half-breed like Sabrina shouldn’t be allowed to attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts. Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle), High Priest of the Church of Night and Dean of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, assures Sabrina their religion is about free will, but it seems the Dark Lord has other plans.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, which seems like a fitting choice. It’s almost always raining and dreary. The cinematography is great, with a chilling play of light and color, especially in interior scenes. My only gripe is that it’s often filmed with a very shallow depth of field, making it look like someone smeared grease around the lens.

Of course, no show is complete these days without some kind of “woke” politics. Sabrina and her friends form a group cleverly titled WICCA (get it?): Women’s Intersectional Culture and Creative Association, after she casts a spell on Principal Hawthorne, terrorizing him with spiders and making him absent from work so the assistant principal can approve the club. They do this to protect a transgender friend from jock bullies.

After enlisting the Weird Sisters’ help to punish the jocks, their leader tells Sabrina the Dark Lord wants them to have freedom or power, but not both. “Why?” Sabrina asks. “Well, he is a man after all,” she replies. Oh brother. Can my eyes roll any harder? These nods to the SJW crowd are about as subtle as Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

That Sabrina has a loving and devoted boyfriend seems like a quaint throwback, a relic of earlier Sabrina incarnations. The show itself is a weird amalgamation of ideas and time periods. Sabrina the comic book is set during the 1960s, and the Netflix series features card catalogs, transistor radios, and rotary phones, but its music and pop culture references are decidedly more contemporary. Witchcraft in the series is also part traditional lore and part revisionist Wicca. It certainly is unique and surprising.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was originally supposed to air on the CW, but went straight to Netflix instead, where it has won many accolades. It currently has a critic rating of 88 percent and audience approval rating of 82 percent on RottenTomatoes. The show’s film-quality effects and cinematography set it far apart from its competitors, and it makes Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996-2003) look like it was filmed in someone’s garage. If Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is any indication, the future of supernatural television is dark indeed.

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