HBO Max 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin': The slasher horror chapter of iconic series

The team behind the Netflix hit Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have stepped into the world of the 2010s Pretty Little Liars universe, with HBO Max’s Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin (on Crave in Canada), starring Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Malia Pyles, Maia Reficco, Zaria and Mallory Bechtel, bringing us a darker, slasher horror new chapter.

“When I was asked if I would be interested in working on a new version of this franchise, I obviously knew about the original [Pretty Little Liars], how could you not, it was such a pop culture phenomenon,” showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told Yahoo Canada. “I went back and started watching the show from beginning to end,...and I was immediately drawn in by the storytelling, that iconic cast.”

“I think the question was sort of like, this show that ran for seven years that told so many stories, is there a compelling new chapter to be told?”

Aguirre-Sacasa had been working with Lindsay Calhoon Bring on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, both huge horror fans, (clearly evident for any fans of the hit Netflix series), but the one thing that the pair never tackled on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was slasher horror.

“Once we landed on that idea it was like, Oh, this could be really, really fun, this is definitely a way to expand the universe, and it feels worthwhile and something that we can be really, really passionate about,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “So for me,...the idea of doing a slasher show was really exciting and kind of undeniable.”

Calhoon Bring was a fan of Aguirre-Sacasa even before she worked as writer on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but she was also a fan of the previous Pretty Little Liars universe.

“The thing that I could boil the original [Pretty Little Liars] down to is a sisterhood and a mystery, and I love mystery, also, I so loved those characters,” Calhoon Bring told Yahoo Canada. “We knew we couldn't touch those characters, we knew we couldn't touch Rosewood, we could not make that any better than what it was.”

“The opportunity to create new girls with Roberto, to create a sisterhood, to create a friendship that people could glom on to, that was really, really exciting to me and to do that set against the genre of horror and slasher, just felt like the perfect marriage of everything we loved.”

Chandler Kinney, Malia Pyles, Zaria, Bailee Madison, Maia Reficco in HBO Max
Chandler Kinney, Malia Pyles, Zaria, Bailee Madison, Maia Reficco in HBO Max "Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin" on Crave in Canada (Photograph by Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max)

What is ‘Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin’ about?

The first thing to establish is that Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin definitely stands on its own from the 2010s series, but it has those structural touch points in the story that still keeps that connection alive.

This new series jumps us back and forth through time, going from 1999 to present day, but has quite a grim and gruesome start.

We start in Millwood, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1999 at a party where a teenage girl Angela Waters (Gabriella Pizzolo) jumps off the rafters and dies, a pile of blood spreading on the ground, with five girls look down at her in complete shock.

Moving forward 22 years, we meet Imogen (Bailee Madison), who is managing her teen pregnancy in high school. Her mother receives an envelope at her door with a red A, inside there is a poster for a party that says, “Party Like It’s 1999!” and the back reads “Gone but not forgotten. You can’t ignore the past forever. The countdown is on.”

That night, while Imogen and her ex-friend Karen (Mallory Bechtel) are at Imogen's home, they see a trail of water and blood coming from the bathroom, only to discover that Imogen’s mom is dead in the bathtub with a red “A” on the wall.

One month later, Imogen goes to school with her friend, horror movie aficionado Tabitha “Tabby” (Chandler Kinney). They’re met at the front door of the school by mean girl Karen who is running for Spirit Queen.

It’s Karen, who’s not just mean but racist and homophobic, that brings this new era of a friend group of teen girls together, all with a shared hatred of Karen. We have Imogen and Tabby, along with Faran (Zaria) who is an avid ballet dancer competing against Karen for the lead role in Swan Lake, Minnie “Mouse” (Malia Pyles) whose overprotective moms have her on a very short leash, and Noa (Maia Reficco) who is walking around school with an ankle monitor after spending time in juvie for drug charges.

Just like in the original Pretty Little Liars series, all the girls start receiving anonymous text messages, and after as a series of creepy events take place at the school, often at Karen’s expense, the girls start to think, maybe this is someone else’s doing. In this case, a masked person who is holding these teens accountable for the “original sins” of their mothers, who are the five girls who watched Angela fall to her death in 1999.

Zaria, Malia Pyles, Maia Reficco, Chandler Kinney, Bailee Madison in HBO Max
Zaria, Malia Pyles, Maia Reficco, Chandler Kinney, Bailee Madison in HBO Max "Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin" on Crave in Canada (Photograph by Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max)

The 'secret sauce' that makes 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin' work

The chemistry between this cast, primarily this main group of of girls, is electric, and something that, as fans of the original Pretty Little Liars series, we really needed

“The magic is when they're all together in the library, or they're all together in the bathroom, and they're all gossiping and talking about what's going on, and talking about who's dating who, and who's cute and all this stuff,” Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said. “That is the goal,...and that is kind of the secret sauce.”

But another great aspect of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is that all these characters are so strong and have a really clear, independent character trajectory, and compelling journey, that really sucks you into every aspect of this story

“I think for us it was really, really important that each of the girls have...their own backstory, their own personal drama and trauma, and joy, that they were wrestling with and experiencing,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “We are big believers in each of the girls driving their own story, wanting things.”

“That said, we really did want all of the girls to be fully dimensional… They're all stars, each of them could…anchor their own show.”

If you missed the sinister actions of A, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin certainly doesn’t disappoint and even exceeded our expectations with this darker, slasher horror new chapter. Certainly a series worthy of being your next teen drama obsession.

The first three episodes of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin drop Thursday, July 28 on Crave in Canada, with subsequent episodes streaming Thursdays.