Review: Exploring the Weird and Amazing, THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA Is A Guaranteed Smile
By the end of the title sequence for the first episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the perfectly titled ‘October Country’), horror fans are guaranteed to be smiling. Its delightful comic book style is equally faithful to the comics upon which its based and those that inspired it like Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow. It’s a great start to a show that has long promised to have been made with horror fans in mind. So how does the whole 10 episode run stack up?
I’ll begin with the negatives. I started watching Riverdale back in its first season and the Twin Peaks vibe kept me coming back but soon the melodrama overwhelmed the mystery and the show became more about who was sleeping with who than developing the story and characters on further. I didn’t hate the direction that Riverdale went in, it just wasn’t something that interested me as much as where it had been. I mention Riverdale because both shows share very similar DNA. Not only do they come from the same creator and production team, they are all but set in the same world. Riverdale and Greendale exist on opposite ends of the county as concentrated hubs for this surreal brand of post Ryan Murphy soap opera. That might work for some as the characters in Sabrina are, for the most part, well-drawn and interesting, making a lot of the more soapy storylines more palatable.
Where it lost me was in the continued reliance on the melodrama. For me, Sabrina was a far stronger show when it was trafficking in the horror that the show’s title promised. It felt a lot clearer and more interesting in its central mysteries than it did with much of the high school drama. It’s not that I hate high school drama. A lot of great horror movies are filled with some excellent scenes of teen angst and heartbreak - just look at Scream. Where Sabrina and Scream differ is in their execution of the drama. In the latter, the sexuality of Sidney and her relationship with Billy is a core part of the horror while in Sabrina, a lot of the teen drama plays as superfluous to much of the storyline, feeling like a distraction from the better moments.
This brings me onto what I loved about the show. For the most part, it looks gorgeous. The dream sequences are lush, vivid reds and yellows that feel hellish and yet surreally beautiful at the same time. The town of Greendale looks like it exists in perpetual fall with auburn colors blending together allowing Sabrina and her red coat to stand out from the world around her. Aside from the strange decision to vignette a lot of the establishing shots, which gives the show a temporary yet terrible Vaseline like look, the aesthetic of the show is everything the premise promised.
The cast is great too, with lead Kiernan Shirpka lending Sabrina both an innocence and a fire. We feel her battle with both her human world and the world of witchcraft through her performance, seeing the toll that her choices have on her. Ross Lynch is great as the loveable yet clueless boyfriend and Jaz Sinclair brings a fire to the character of Roz, Sabrina’s best friend. While I didn’t love the high school drama, I did fall for the characters that lived there. Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis are both great as polar opposite aunts trying desperately to pull Sabrina in different directions. Lucy Davis brings a warmth and maternal instinct to Hilda Spellman that acts as a nice counterpoint to Otto’s colder, more clinical Zelda.
Where this show shines, however, is in how much it leans into the horror. From the first episode things are weird and amazing. The topics of conversation at breakfast are dark baptisms and familiars. The sets feel grand and gothic and old, rich with history and the world around them seems dark and foreboding. The show has a dark sense of humor as well, joking about everything from cannibalism to human sacrifice. There are some great references in there for die hard horror fans with everything from Rosemary’s Baby to Night of the Living Dead alluded to in some way be it visually or with a direct call out. The show is also genuinely scary at times, with some of the creature design nightmarishly realized.
Across its first season, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is much better at the horror than it is the drama. Where Riverdale got lost in amongst the melodrama, however, Sabrina rescues itself with some truly terrifying sequences, great characters and fascinating storylines (see Salem the cat) making it well worth checking out. My advice is, go watch The Haunting of Hill House and then, when you’re looking for something to fill the Crain-shaped void it has left, then dive into Sabrina and remember to bring your spell-book.