Millions of people dress up as a different person for Halloween. Given the central theme of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is identity, it's the ideal Netflix series for the holiday. [Warning: Spoilers].
CAOS joins a long list of horror films and TV shows that employ zombies, werewolves and other monsters to tackle cultural issues. Carrie is an allegory for puberty, Get Out deals with racism, and It Follows is about sexually transmitted diseases, growing up or accepting your mortality, depending on who you ask. Indeed, early in the first episode of CAOS, protagonist Sabrina and her boyfriend Harvey listen to their friends Roz and Susie explain that ‘Night of the Living Dead’ isn’t just about zombies; it’s about the Cold War, civil rights and the collapse of the nuclear family. Their discussion foreshadows the show’s exploration of myriad issues including free will, religion, gender, patriarchy, family, justice and most importantly, identity.
Nearly all of CAOS’ characters face identity crises and undergo transformations. Sabrina is forced to choose between giving up her school friends and boyfriend or alienating her aunts and renouncing her heritage by not becoming a fully fledged witch. Roz comes to terms with the fact she'll become blind in a matter of months, and discovers she’s clairvoyant. Susie, a transgender boy, explores his gender identity as he’s tormented by bullies, and ultimately follows in a heroic ancestor’s footsteps. Aunt Zelda, a religious zealot, admits she would put her niece’s welfare ahead of her faith and deceives the High Priest by hiding his child from him. Aunt Hilda is excommunicated from the Church, gets a job at a bookstore and begins a romance with its ostensibly mortal owner. Prudence, a witch who antagonises Sabrina early on, learns she’s the High Priest’s illegitimate daughter, undoubtedly shaking her trust in those around her. And after the death of his brother, Harvey has no choice but to craft his identity without his role model.
CAOS also explores how identities are moulded by outside forces. Deceit is one: Sabrina is duped into believing she will have free will after signing the Book of the Beast, then manipulated by the Mistress of Demons – disguised as one of her teachers - into signing. Family expectations are another: Sabrina’s aunts expect her to join them as witches, Harvey’s father dismisses his dream of becoming a comic-book artist and pressures him to hunt and work in the mines, and Susie’s father may never understand him. Institutions also play a role: Prudence is so deeply indoctrinated that she feels honoured to be a human sacrifice for the Feast of Feasts, and struggles to accept that she’s been set up.
Netflix released CAOS close to Halloween because of its devil-worshipping witches, demonic possessions, nightmarish monsters, cannibalism and gore. But it's real connection to a night on which people adopt new personas is its nuanced exploration of how identity is formed, altered and cemented. That's not something to fear.