Chilling Adventures Mixes Horror with High School Camp

Patrick Reilly

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the newest Netflix show from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writer and executive producer of Glee and Riverdale. Fans of his work will be thrilled: Chilling Adventures is arguably his best series yet. The show is centered on Sabrina Spellman, a “half human-half witch” teenager who lives in the fictional town of Greendale, which is supposedly across the river from Riverdale, with her two aunts Hilda and Zelda and her cousin Ambrose.

Led by the spellbinding Kiernan Shipka, the show is a darker retelling of the Archie comic character made famous by Melissa Joan Hart. Gone is the quirky 90s Sabrina who uses magic to change her clothes or pull pranks at school. Instead, Shipka’s Sabrina, as a half-witch, must deal with the consequences of belonging to two distinct worlds at once. While that sounds like a coming-of-age story done over and over again, Aguirre-Sacasa presents a genuinely fresh take on it.

The show opens on Sabrina’s birthday, on Halloween no less. We discover that it is tradition on a witch’s 16th birthday that they must undertake a “Dark Baptism”… meaning the witch must give over their soul to “Lord Satan.” The problem for Sabrina, though, is that she doesn’t really find that concept entirely appealing: she is afraid not only of the moral implications of losing her humanity, but also the tangible ones. By selling her soul, she would lose access to most of the mortal world, her friends, and, more importantly, her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (played by former Disney star, Ross Lynch). On the other hand, by clinging on to her humanity, Sabrina puts her friends and family in danger from the shadowy, patriarchal Church of Satan.

The character of Sabrina is fierce and rebellious, and the story wonderfully incorporates themes of female empowerment, misogyny, and sexism better that most other young adult shows I’ve seen. The ensemble cast is diverse and includes wonderful queer and POC representation and develops its social justice message without ever making it feel forced. The world of Greendale, both mythical and mortal, is captivating. The series really shines in its ability to build and entire world. This strong suit can be attributed to Aguirre-Sacasa’s background in horror and the supernatural; Chilling Adventures takes a lot of inspiration from classic satanic horror movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

While serious and even scary at times, the show has a dark humor and a fantastic ensemble of memorable characters that makes it incredibly fun to watch. The deeper the series begins to explore the more fantastical and dark-sided qualities of Greendale, the deeper the audience wants to go as well.

While the contrasting stories are both well executed, I found the duality of the series– it being both a teenage drama and an all-out horror romp– is also where the show is at its weakest. The horror isn’t as well done as other Netflix shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror and the special effects used are surprisingly subpar for a high-billed show such as this. The horror scenes are fun but are often short-lived and are dispersed with high-school B stories ranging from Sabrina and her friends trying to start a club at her school or reporting a set of bullies to the principal. The show’s pacing is awkward especially in the middle of episodes; I found myself becoming increasingly bored by Sabrina’s mortal friends and their high school drama as the intrigue was escalating in the witching world. It’s hard to empathize with Sabrina’s initial disgust with the witches and the Church of Satan when the scenes involving the witching world are the high points of each episode. Luckily, this low point is partially alleviated near the end of the series when the two worlds begin to collide. Overall, I found that I still really enjoyed the series even with its minor pitfalls. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is worth a watch, or marathon, especially if you’re a fan of Aguirre-Sacasa’s other works (and even if you’re not). The story is well written and doesn’t suffer from the need for excessive drama or twists that plagued the later seasons of Glee and even Riverdale.  I recommend keeping an eye of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the quality and caliber of the show can only going to improve with coming seasons.