How ‘Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin’ Made A Even Scarier

If you’re a “Pretty Little Liars” fan, you know that any text about “A,” the show’s unnamed tormentor, is enough to set one off. But in the spinoff series “Original Sin,” there’s a whole new level of fear with every cryptic message.

The HBO Max series, which ended its first season on Thursday, introduces a whole new group of friends in a different town with their own A — one who’s like blood. Added to the franchise based on Sara Shepard’s young adult novels, “Original Sin” leans into the slasher genre while standing out. the original series and its two previous spin-offs, “Ravenswood” and “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.”

In the new series, five high school students – Imogen Adams (Bailee Madison), Tabby Haworthe (Chandler Kinney), Faran Bryant (Zaria), Minnie “Mouse” Honrada (Malia Pyles) and Noa Olivar (Maia Reficco) – bond. A’s torment lands them in prison and begins A’s revenge for their mother’s past insults. Slowly, the girls reveal the truth about their mothers and the other children at their school.

Creators Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring wanted to keep the “DNA” of Pretty Little Liars, but added a layer of horror to create a fresh take. Paying homage to the slasher films of the 1970s and 80s, they revitalized the franchise, taking into account the scare factor of A, but keeping its central focus on female friendship.

Bring, who grew up on horror stories like “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” came to Aguirre-Sacasa, who Warner Bros. had asked to develop a new version of “PLL” and suggested that they work together to integrate a slasher element.

“I love slashers, [but] I had never done a slasher. The second he brought it up, I was like, ‘I see that and I see why I would be the person to work on that,'” Aguirre-Sacasa says.

In addition to the mystery of A’s identity and the convention of teen drama, each episode left the pair asking, “What is this episode’s slasher horror series?” Aguirre-Sacasa recalls. To achieve this consistently, they looked for shots and sequences designed to give A that slasher villain thrill: seeing a mysterious figure in a graveyard, a chase scene across the rooftops.

They also renewed A’s image. In previous iterations of Pretty Little Liars, A has been seen hiding in a black or red hoodie. This time they wanted to give A the full slasher movie treatment and create a prominent “iconography” for the villain.

Five girls huddled together.

Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Maia Reficco, Zaria, Malia Pyles in episode 2 of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.

(Barbara Nitke / HBO Max)

“One of my favorite Friday the 13th factoids is that the mask isn’t introduced until the third movie, but we all remember Jason with the hockey mask,” says Bring. He adds that people usually don’t call horror movies by their names, but by their leading villains. For example, Freddy Krueger in the movie “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. The creators wanted something similar for A.

They initially suggested a generic animal mask like a jackal, but eventually turned to the director and renowned production designer Lisa Soper take the idea forward.

“We really wanted to make sure it was unique to A,” says Soper. “I probably went through 30 or 40 different mask concepts.”

He looked at other iconic masks and narrowed them down to their common features: emotionless, pale skin, hidden eyes. He began to “rip back” emotional elements from his original designs, “deconstruct the mask and hide who this person is.”

He landed on a meat mask that “looked like it could have been victims that he stitched together,” Soper says. Between the pieces of meat, the letter “A” is subtly sewn and made visible with staples.

But while Aguirre-Sacasa and Bring drew on plenty of popular horror images, they deliberately left one thing behind: the male gaze.

“Going back to the movies that we saw as teenagers and probably pre-teens, you realize that most if not all of these movies are written and directed by men, and they often objectify and exploit young women,” Aguirre-Sacasa says. .

While celebrating the genre, they also wanted to criticize it. Aguirre-Sacasa remembers reading about the concept of the “last girl” in the horror genre in Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws. The audience sees the “last girl” tortured to the end – a victim of sadistic oppression and harassment. Take the “gratuitous” shower scene in “Carrie” as an example.

The girl is staring at the corridor.

Bailee Madison in episode 2 of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.

(Karolina Wojtasik / HBO Max)

While “Original Sin” occasionally flips the script in more alarming ways, such as Tabby’s secret filming in the boys’ locker room, it also tries to “empower” the show’s female characters through aesthetic choices, Soper says. “Usually when you photograph a woman, you are at a slightly higher angle and look down on her. With these girls… we would take the camera down a little bit and look up.” He also gave each girl a very symbolic weapon. Imogen was a knife, Tabby was a hammer, Farren was a bow, Noa was a shield and Mouse was a trap.

“These girls were able to play with them individually and let them use that symbolism to help their characters fight slasher villains,” says Soper.

And despite this new iteration straying far from its predecessors in terms of genre influence and tone, the team behind “Original Sin” believes it lives up to the beloved original — especially in maintaining the bond between the girls.

“We love the original Pretty Little Liars,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. “We wanted to honor them and create something that old and new fans could enjoy without thinking, ‘Oh, you’ve taken this thing that I loved and kind of denied it or broken it or redone it.'”

Cropped it though? That’s a different story.

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