Yellowjackets literally hits the ground running in its pilot episode, opening with a shot of an unidentifiable teenager screaming her way through some snowy wilderness. This is how all shows should start.
Though I won’t spoil the episode, know that it doesn’t hold your hand through the experience, choosing instead to bathe you in intrigue and unease; to sprinkle just enough exposition to pull you in before switching gears and slowing down for more dramatic moments. This is first accomplished after said scene of “screaming girl”, as the episode then shifts to a montage of high school employees being interviewed, and the school principal has one of my favorite lines from the episode: “Some of these kids, no big loss if we’re honest.”
The Showtime series was created and produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, and stars Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men), Juliette Lewis (Whip It), Christina Ricci (Monster), and Tawny Cypress (The Blacklist). It’s described by Showtime as:
“Equal parts survival epic, psychological horror story and coming-of-age drama, Yellowjackets is the saga of a team of wildly talented high school girls soccer players who become the (un)lucky survivors of a plane crash deep in the remote northern wilderness. The series chronicles their descent from a complicated but thriving team to savage clans, while also tracking the lives they’ve attempted to piece back together nearly 25 years later, proving that the past is never really past and what began out in the wilderness is far from over.“
However, the best way I can describe it is: Lord of the Flies meets Clueless meets Rosemary’s Baby — which, admittedly, was mentioned by co-creator Lyle as an inspiration for the series at a Television Critics Association panel discussion this past August.
That Sense of Unease
While immersed in the scenes of the teenaged soccer stars, the “Yellowjackets”, it appears like a mostly accurate portrayal of 1996. (Or at least what I remember of that year… I was only 9 years old, I’m afraid.) But think “scrunchies and Nirvana.” Then, while witnessing those same characters 26 years post-plane crash in 2021, it’s significantly more melancholy, almost distressing in the way director Karyn Kusama chooses to frame each scene.
It’s not surprising that Kusama knows her way around subtly disturbing imagery, as she also directed one of the most unsettling horror films in recent memory, The Invitation, as well as the cult classic Jennifer’s Body.
Lyle said there had been several discussions exploring how it would center around “…that line between a genuine supernatural phenomena or some sort of madness that takes hold.” This can be felt throughout the episode, as it cuts back and forth between now and then, albeit the “then” moments feel a little too brief. But they do ostensibly show the audience just enough to have us wondering what the actual hell is going on. Why are there girls dressed in makeshift ritualistic garb? And why do they sit in formation like extras from Midsommar?
Yellowjackets is something to behold, even after only the pilot. It gives away just enough to leave me eagerly awaiting the second episode, while also beautifully displaying the full force of the talent behind the series. The entire cast is brilliant in their roles — wow, the casting department did an excellent job with the younger counterparts of each adult character — and there are a few times in particular that the transition from 1996 to 2021 was executed in such a unique and eye-catching way that I had to rewind a few seconds just to see it again.
If you’re looking for a female-led thriller/drama series with distinct horror elements that still maintains widespread appeal, please watch Yellowjackets when it airs on Showtime.
Yellowjackets also stars Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Samantha Hanratty (Shameless), Sophie Thatcher (Chicago Med), Sophie Nélisse (47 Meters Down: Uncaged), Steven Krueger (The Originals), Jasmin Savoy (The Leftovers), and Warren Kole (Shades of Blue).
The series is scheduled to premiere on November 14, 2021 at 10 p.m. EST, but Showtime has released the pilot episode, completely free, to be viewed on Showtime.com, as well as on YouTube, Sho.com, and other Showtime partner platforms.
Watch the trailer below: