Photo courtesy of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina / Facebook

Sabrina, a Witch of Our Time

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina excites and terrifies with timeless aesthetics and a powerful message.

Many of us remember one of the most iconic supernatural sitcoms of the ‘90s, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Well, the opening scenes of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stay true to those beloved ‘90s vibes: we meet Sabrina and her charming boyfriend Harvey watching a black-and-white horror movie. Sabrina, portrayed inventively by Kiernan Shipka, flashes her adorable smile at the screen while her boyfriend Harvey shakes with fear. Zombies and vampires can’t scare Sabrina, though—she’s accustomed to the supernatural and the frightening.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the Netflix original series, many were jittering with excitement for what promised to be a charming, if slightly creepier, reboot. However, from the first few minutes, it becomes clear that The Chilling Adventures is more macabre than anticipated. The lighting is quite dark, the Halloween tones powerful, and the premise itself is downright frightening. Instead of a funny teenager discovering the unintended consequences of magic, Sabrina Spellman of The Chilling Adventures must decide whether she will become a full witch, which entails signing her name away to Lucifer himself. This is the primary conflict: will Sabrina sign the Book of the Beast and gain incredible powers, or stay mortal and in love with sweet Harvey?

As Sabrina navigates these challenges, we can enjoy beautiful autumn shots of Greendale, a timeless and fictitious New England town with a history of witch trials. In Greendale, "timeless" is more than just an autumn mood: the show claims to take place on “Tuesday, October 28 of this year,” which guarantees that it will become an annual Halloween classic. The show’s asynchronous props contribute to this effect. Most of the technology is antiquated, with ‘50s cars and rotary landline phones, but one character is always shown with a laptop. The school library uses a card catalog, but Sabrina and her friends still found a Women’s Intersectional Creative and Cultural Association (WICCA) when the term “intersectional feminism” was only coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw .

The music and costumes both contribute to the timelessness of The Chilling Adventures’ aesthetic. Dressed in cloudy wool sweaters and doll-collared shirts with the requisite bow, Sabrina is a picture of ‘70s chic, while her boyfriend Harvey embodies ‘90s high school alternative. Aunt Zelda dresses like Audrey Hepburn, complete with a cigarette holder, while Aunt Hilda embodies the kooky middle-school art teacher. While the soundtrack incorporates Halloween classics like “Monster Mash” and “Bad Moon Rising," the more modern tunes like “A Little Wicked” by Valerie Broussard bring a powerful beat to associate with a powerful witch.

Sabrina is a witch of our time. While balancing her own plot arcs of a magical coming-of-age and the classic high school romance, Sabrina still manages to worry about the fates of her bullied friend and her boyfriend’s aggressive father. Sabrina is a clever and stubborn young woman who stands up for what she believes, no matter the stakes and no matter how much danger it takes. She challenges every authority she does not agree with, from the school principal to the King of Hell himself, and does not shy away from unusual (magical) methods.

Sabrina accepts neither supernatural nor human precedent when they conflict with her goals, which is part of what makes her such a satisfying character. She embodies the attitude is that nothing is immutable, and while we may not possess her powers, we may still draw inspiration from her steadfast commitment to her beliefs and to the people she loves.

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