Some spoilers for Netflix’s Chambers and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ahead.
Netflix’s new horror series Chambers stars Sivan Alyra Rose as Sasha, a Native American (Diné) teen whose life-saving heart transplant quickly curdles from a gift to a curse. As the series progresses, Sasha endures terrifying visions, behavioral changes, and the slow takeover of her body by the heart’s deceased original owner, a privileged white girl named Becky Le Fevre (Lilliya Reid). As Becky invades Sasha in every way possible (literally turning her skin white and her hair blond), it becomes clear that Becky was possessed by some evil spirit, and that the same evil spirit is now inhabiting Sasha.
In the last episode of the debut season, it’s revealed that the spirit that has been tormenting both girls is actually Lilith, a Jewish folkloric demon who has, in modern times, been reclaimed as a feminist symbol. As the story goes, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, cast out of Eden because she refused to be inferior to her husband.
It’s a surprise reveal similar to the one at the end of Netflix’s other teen horror show, the campy and delightful Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which incorporates a lot of other Jewish references. However, with this being the second Netflix original to have Lilith as part of its central plot, the question becomes, why is this figure gaining so much popularity?
The Jewish creator of Chambers, Leah Rachel, told Refinery29 that her own complex religious and cultural identity informs all of her work, saying, “Whenever I write anything, it has to be surrounding questions that I’m dealing with in my own life. I am culturally Jewish, and have always been searching for my belief system, and searching for answers to those unanswerable questions. There’s something very fertile between the line of horror and religion — the ideas of soul, reincarnation, what happens after we die… all things explored in Chambers.”
Horror films, especially ones that focus on religious mythology, have historically been overwhelmingly rooted in patriarchal Christianity — think Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist. But as a feminist Jewish demon with a nuanced backstory, Lilith bucks that tradition. Just as in Sabrina, her inclusion is meant to challenge the viewers about what it means to be good or evil.
When speaking about Lilith’s role in Chambers, Leah Rachel said, “I’m not sure she’s a demon. I think she’s a very misunderstood mythological creature that carries with her very earned rage. It depends on how you look at her, whether you think she’s a god, or a demon. The line is very, very thin.” She went on to add, “Becky was misunderstood, Sasha is misunderstood, and Nancy is misunderstood. There’s a story of misunderstood women within Chambers. We want to set the story straight [with Lilith] too.”
It’s this kind of nuance that makes for a deep and engaging series because it constantly keeps you thinking, in contrast to other horror films and shows that simply make you terrified.
Lilith’s centrality to these shows might also reflect a wider trend that aims to introduce less-represented cultures in the horror/thriller genres. We saw this with Jordan Peele, whose movie Get Out explores the horrors of racism that Black people are forced to endure. We also saw it with Russian Doll, another Netflix special that was deeply rooted in Jewish tradition, history, and philosophy. Chambers is a series that forces viewers to recognize the sheer terror and violence of the appropriation of Native culture, as well as the systemic inequality that Native Americans are still subjected to today.
Traditionally, Lilith is known as a demon who steals children’s souls at night, which she does out of envy for not being able to birth her own child. All she can birth, according to folklore, are demons. In this way, perhaps Lilith’s inclusion is meant to add dimension to the issue of Native children being stolen from their families and cultures by white people. In the show, the LeFevres develop an obsession with Sasha, an obsession that leads them to semi-adopt her as one of their own. The loss of their daughter Becky leads them to dress Sasha in her clothes, send her to Becky’s old school, and eventually imprison her so they can use her as a vessel to speak to Becky. They even confront her uncle and caretaker when he tries to bring Sasha back home. Perhaps Lilith’s “earned rage” is meant to reflect that of the marginalized cultures the show explores.
Whatever the reason, Lilith is making more and more appearances in popular art forms. Ultimately, this is a good thing, because it challenges the existing homogeneity of the horror/thriller genre, bringing in a new cultural perspective, and a Jewish, feminist one at that.