One of the biggest surprises for me on Netflix in the past couple of years has been Riverdale. I never expected an Archie adaptation to be as good and entertaining—and dark—and this series has been for the past few seasons. When the people behind Riverdale announced the plans for adapting The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had read the comic and found it incredible, a wonderful way of reintroducing a classic character in a horror setting.
The Netflix series keeps the base elements of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic book, while wildly changing others to deliver a fresh story, one with a greater focus on the exploration of humanity and the path to darkness. The road to hell is paved in good intentions, is a key phrase for many things that happen in this first season, as Sabrina’s caring nature gets her in trouble and her decisions become increasingly disturbing.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina opens with the days before her 16th Birthday, when she must take her Dark Baptism, sign her name in the Book of the Beast, becoming one of Satan’s handmaidens and a full member of her coven, the Church of Night. Things don’t go exactly as planned though, but while it’s a series of unfortunate and coincidental events which stop her from signing and then get her into trouble in the comic, in the Netflix adaptation it’s her own doubts about binding her soul to Satan that stop her. It allows for different kinds of conflicts, the introduction of original characters and the exploration of the Coven itself.
One thing I love about the series is how much personality and depth it gives the Coven, introducing several members and explaining the belief system, the politics and the interpersonal conflicts of its members. Some of their rituals are downright nasty and become the focus of several episodes, with Sabrina often managing to make a change here and there.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark from the outset but it gets progressively more gruesome, never crossing the line into disgustingly gory but it’s the kind of horror that implies horrible things and lets your mind do the rest of the work, as all great horror should. But between visions and hallucinations, rituals and sacrifices, this series will find ways to shock and terrify you. The dream demon sequences midway through the season are a highlight for me, as is the conclusion of the Coven’s Feast of Feasts, their own version of Thanksgiving.
I do have to say that as much as I love Michelle Gomez (you might know her as Missy aka The Master in Doctor Who), I find her Madame Satan lacks the same punch as the comic book character. In terms of power, the Netflix series version is on another level entirely but she’s more of the unholy mentor, the devil on Sabrina’s shoulder instead of the manipulative antagonist of the comics, the one helping Sabrina only to further her own vendetta against the Spellman family. Then again, in the comics she’s vengeful because Sabrina’s father rejected her, so maybe it’s best they changed those motivations.
I love Ambrose. He was good in the comics but Chance Perdomo brings so much to this character in the series that he’s just a joy to watch. All his scenes are amazing, as he feels genuine. Then again, they wrote the role just for him after seeing his audition tape for Riverdale’s jughead.
Season One focuses on Sabrina’s duality, on her becoming more of a witch and deepening her understanding and immersion in the path of witch-hood while still trying to keep her mortal life, and I have to give Kiernan Shipka props for her performance as Sabrina. The humanity she brings to this role is outstanding, and so when she’s hurting, you’re right there with her. Her vulnerability is genuine and heart-breaking, which is just superb acting.
I would have loved for Salem to have a talking role. Where in the comics he’s a warlock transmogrified into a Cat for trying to enact some of the more apocalyptic passages of the bible, here he’s a Goblin that assumes that shape when he becomes Sabrina’s familiar. He speaks maybe twice, the rest of the time just meowing. I suppose it saves money on actors if the cat doesn’t speak, but you lose out on the character’s wonderfully snarky attitude.
Season one of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has ten episodes and I wanted ten more, but I suppose I’ll have to wait for the next season to air next year, as it promises bigger twists, greater surprises and some really dark moments.