5 January 2019

REVIEW: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Season 1 & A Midwinter's Tale

I do not own any of these images. Via IMDB

I intended to write a review of the 1st season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina but Christmas came about so quickly that the draft was left untouched over the Festive period. I thought I'd write a short review before diving into the Christmas Special : A Midwinter's Tale!

Official synopsis :

Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) juggles life as a sophomore at Baxter High and as a witch with her Aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) in this darker coming-of-age series based on the comic book series of the same name.

As a watcher of Riverdale, I had certain expectations when it came to this new show: it definitely has a slight Season-1-Riverdale feel to it thanks to same producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and it does mention the adjacent town multiple times through-out the season. The ambitious freshman season of Sabrina builds on the standard of tv-making that made season 1 of Riverdale such a success: it is an impressive high-quality production with cinematic camera work (which includes a certain blurred-around-the-edges effect during magic scenes), stunning retro and horror-esque set design intertwined with a constantly dark (literally) atmosphere which creates an immersive and intriguing setting.

The show embraces some elements of witch mythology which most supernatural shows shy away from (such as cannibalism, necromancy and organised religion) and even surprised me with its creepiness and violence (the show is rated 16+ after all). Sabrina is trying to find a balance between her mortal life and her witch life, and it's the latter that is the most intriguing in terms of plot (The Church of Night & The Academy). That's not to say that the mortal aspects of Sabrina's life don't have potential in terms of future storylines, but we can't help but want to see more of Academy life along with the other witches. Despite the dark tones in the show, there is a certain light-heartedness present too (not forgetting the morbid humour), which can be a difficult path to navigate as it can potentially become campy if done wrong. 

"For as interesting as some of the coven material is, it’s easy--and a little frustrating--to imagine the show “Sabrina” could’ve been if it had embraced the Academy. Many of the scenes that click fully into place involve some combination of Academy students, lore, and protocol that make it feel like such a promising, pitch-black “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” heir that it’s disappointing when the series pulls away. The good news is that once the show pushes past its initial throat clearing, is alluring and compelling enough to discourage looking away..." Caroline Framke, Variety

The first 5 episodes are quite slow-paced despite containing such heavy mythology exposition, and the first two episodes are filled with tiresome character tropes that unfold so inorganically that it can discourage viewers from watching the rest of the episodes. However, the season soon progresses into something more compelling and enjoyable: the final few episodes deliver horror, intrigue, thrills and a genuinely enjoyable finale. The show has a strong cast: Kiernan Shipka plays the title role of Sabrina, a half-witch caught between two worlds: navigating a life filled with century old traditions whilst embracing relevant, real-world issues. She's wise yet innocent, and successfully carries the show. The two aunts are played by Lucy Davis (Helga) and Miranda Otto (Zelda) who make up a truly great duo. Zelda is definitely a force to be reckoned with, and I need to express how nice it is to have female characters over the age of 40 on screen too.

I really enjoyed this first season of CAOS, and look forward to seeing what its sophomore season will bring. Hopefully its charm will endure, unlike Riverdale which took a nose-dive in its second season (however has since improved - but you can't help but wonder what Riverdale could have been if it had a small supernatural streak). Season 1 of Sabrina was definitely a promising debut with lots of potential.

A Midwinter's Tale

The Christmas - or Yulemas - Special titled A Midwinter's Tale is possibly my personal favourite episode of CAOS yet. It perfectly intertwined the feeling of festive joy with some twisted, dark Wiccan mythology. The episode itself didn't really contribute to season 1 but was merely a filler episode which provided some closure to previous storylines : Sabrina's mother in Limbo, where Sabrina stands with Harvey, and the baby Letitia who was 'adopted' by Aunt Zelda.

A Midwinter's Tale embraces the festive season by delving into Wiccan folklore surrounding the Winter Solstice, such as the lighting of the Yule log. Sabrina recruits fellow witches to do a seance in order to contact her mother who is stuck in limbo. Susie, working as an elf at the mall, is abducted by a demon disguised as Santa Claus. The introduction of the imposing witch Gryla played into the theme of mothers and loss: Aunt Zelda and her newly adopted/stolen daughter Letitia, as well as Sabrina and her mother.  Eventually all of these little plot threads tie into the main narrative of the episode: the haunting of the Spellman's House by Gryla's children, who wreak mischief in homes unprotected by the Yule Log. These scenes were particularly enjoyable as it involved simple haunting magic tricks (proving once again that less is more), and it focused mainly on the Spellman's family dynamic.

All in all, the Christmas special is an enjoyable filler episode which embraced festive joy and a bit of fright. The perfect amount of witchcraft and horror. Only the ending of the episode (which saw three mysterious figures emerge from the mines) offered any kind of indication of what future episodes may hold. The end of season 1 saw the emergence of a new Sabrina, embracing her witch side - however the Christmas special reassured us that she isn't a different person altogether after the events of the finale.

What did you think of The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina?

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