Sabrina is back, but she’s not the witch you once knew. Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes the beloved ‘90s sitcom character and reboots her in a darker, sinister universe — with some mixed success.

The series follows the adventures of half-witch, half-mortal Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) who must make a life-changing decision on her 16th birthday: stay in the comforts of the human life she cultivated and slowly give up her powers or embrace her witch nature and sign away her freedom to the devil.

It’s darker and scarier in tone compared to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but that’s because it’s not based on the TV sitcom. Instead, it’s based on the Archie Comics title of the same name by show creator Robert Aguirre-Sacasa. The comic leans more into horror, but even then, the Netflix series seems to shy away from it. While the comic’s plot remains the same, the show strays away from many of the storylines which truly make the comics horrific.

But that doesn’t mean the series is a lost cause. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a sharply written coming-of-age story. Aguirre-Sacasa still keeps the show engaging  by avoiding exaggerated storylines, infusing each episode with dark humor. And the cinematography, sometimes dizzying due to the focus aspect, is stunning thanks to the gothic aesthetic of the setting beckoning back to the past, despite the show being set in modern time.

The series is decently paced over the span of 10 episodes, but it doesn’t start shifting through gears until the second half of the series. The first half focuses more on plot and character building, so it’s lacking in terms of emotional stakes. But when the second half hits, the real fun begins. The stakes are raised as Sabrina faces bigger obstacles in the form of tragedy and greater evils.

What truly allows the series to shine is the cast. Shipka holds her own as Sabrina, a confident, rebellious teenage witch willing to do anything to protect the ones she loves most. But it’s the adults who steal the show. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, who star as Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda respectively, sharply oppose  each other. Hilda is the humorous, relaxed aunt and Zelda is the stern, Satan-praising aunt. Most importantly, Michelle Gomez, who plays Ms.Wardwell/Madam Satan, truly captures the antagonistic spirit, pulling Sabrina’s strings from behind the scenes. Gomez plays her in such a devious and likable way, the audience will struggle to not love her character.

By the season’s conclusion, it’s clear Aguirre-Sacasa is setting the show up for an even darker, spell-binding second season as it ends with some shocking cliffhangers and revelations. Overall, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may not widely appeal to fans of the comic, but for others, the fun 10-episode journey will surely cast a spell on you.

4 stars

Image credit: Movie DB

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