Yellowjackets review: What happens in the woods definitely won't stay there

Finally, a story about girls becoming brutish, violent savages after a plane crash in the wilderness. This pulpy blend of Alive, Lord of the Flies, and Amazon's YA survival drama The Wilds drops a team of elite high school soccer players in an unforgiving snowy terrain — then jumps ahead to explore what's left of their lives (and humanity) 25 years later.

The Yellowjackets are the pride of Wiskayok High School; New Jersey state soccer champs on their way to the nationals in Seattle. One harrowingly-rendered plane crash later, the girls — including team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell), her passive-aggressive best friend Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), hyper-competitive Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), scowly stoner Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), and eager-to-please outcast Misty (Sammi Hanratty) — must figure out a plan to survive. Several chilling flash-forwards make it clear that teamwork definitely did not make the dream work during the 19 months the girls were stranded, and at least one of them ends up getting roasted (we don't mean by insults). A quarter-century later, the Yellowjackets are all grown up, having built new lives amid rumors and tabloid speculation about what really happened out in those woods. Spooked that someone may be about to uncover their secret, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (The Blacklist's Tawny Cypress), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), and Misty (Christina Ricci) reluctantly reconnect to protect themselves.


Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Dispatches from Elsewhere), Yellowjackets (premiering Nov. 14 on Showtime) maintains an intriguing tonal balance in early episodes. The survival timeline is pure horror, all steadily increasing dread and glimpses of grotesque violence. The writers seed the story with hints of the supernatural, but wisely keep it vague, at least in the 6 episodes made available for review. Whether these girls were driven by evil forces or starvation-induced madness, the result is equally riveting. It helps that the flashback cast is strong enough to carry an entire drama on their own; standouts Brown, Thatcher, and Nélisse are particularly adept at delivering performances that feel distinct and yet authentically echo the personas of their adult counterparts.

The modern-day timeline, meanwhile, takes full advantage of the show's beautifully off-kilter leading ladies: Ricci is grimly funny as adult Misty, a bespectacled nurse with an aggressively perky demeanor and an even more aggressive masochistic streak. She and Lewis, whose intense glower and acerbic delivery only get sexier with age, have such oddball chemistry, I'm already looking forward to their next project together. Cypress brings a steely professionalism to aspiring politician Taissa, while Lynskey is typically excellent as Shauna, an unhappy housewife masking a fierce self-sufficiency under a self-effacing demeanor.

Crafting a satisfying end to such a high-concept story is extremely challenging, and it's possible that Yellowjackets could (ahem) crash and burn in the final four episodes. But if the rest of the season is as tasty as the first course, it'll be worth it to stick around for dessert. Grade: B+

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