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Yellowjackets Premiere Review – IGN

Yellowjackets premieres on Showtime Nov. 14, 2021, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

It’s often been the default in survivalist storytelling to show men as the ones who devolve to their basest natures first as the women remain the measured purveyors of decency. Yellowjackets blasts that trope into oblivion by fully embracing that when pressed into dire circumstances, women behave very badly as well.

The Showtime original series is showrun by Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, and Jonathan Lisco, with Lyle and Nickerson writing the pilot directed by horror veteran Karyn Kusama (The Invitation). Together they put the ingredients of a coming-of-age drama, a psychological thriller, and a brutally grisly “last girl” horror movie into a story blender, and then remand all those pulpy ingredients into the hands of their fabulously cast ensemble of younger and older actresses who share playing the characters in 1996 or 2021.

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The Yellowjackets of the title refers to the name of the New Jersey high school girl’s soccer team imminently heading to the 1996 nationals. Led by popular team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell), the players are a disparate collection of competitive personalities plagued by all of the age-appropriate Achilles’ heels you might expect, from petty jealousy to Machiavellian backstabbing and plain old boy trouble. The 1996 flashbacks are interwoven into the story in the now, so we get to see the early dynamics of the team for context. There are plenty of hotheads like Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and punk outcast Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), along with the secret keepers like Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) and perky Misty (Sammi Hanratty). Each have complicated lives to navigate in their social pecking order, and moral compasses that will inform their actions in the wake of a terrible shared plane crash.

As they fly in a parent-provided private jet to their game, the plane has a catastrophic failure that will kill their pilots, leaving the team and their coaches in the middle of a remote forest. The crash outcome is in another set of flashbacks told in non-linear fashion that allows the girls and their adult chaperons to be tested with life-and-death choices. Those decisions will shake them all to their core, and challenge our suppositions of how we think they’ll act based on what we saw of their average suburban lives.

These two timeframes are then expertly stitched together with the present, where we are introduced to just some of the high school girls now grown up. It’s 25 years past that life-changing experience in the woods, but all of the survivors are still emotionally stuck in that moment in time. Melanie Lynskey is adult Shauna, a suburban wife and mother who regularly defers to the needs of her family with a barely repressed seething rage. Juliette Lewis is the former punk Natalie, with a blackly comedic sensibility honed in rehab. And Tawny Cypress’ Taissa is the successful wife and mother running for Senate trying to keep her “perfect” façade in place.

Figuring out who else is alive and kicking from that crash is a big part of the fun in trying to deconstruct the show’s complex but well-structured narratives for clues. Despite bouncing between storylines a lot in the introductory hour, it’s not confusing because the actresses all have unifying physical traits. More importantly, each pass their emotional batons seamlessly across the timeline with astonishing consistency. It’s like every actress is channeling their counterpart, which is just as spooky as the crazy things going on the longer the girls are stuck in those woods.

Reveals come when you least expect them.


Speaking of which, the show embraces the visceral from the very start, so beware if your threshold for watching graphic, implied cannibalism or the outcome of nasty injuries is low. Yellowjackets will test your thresholds, which is keeping with what the narrative does to each of the characters. But the overall mystery is worth some eye aversion. Reveals come when you least expect them in the past and the present, along with new questions to ponder. Every character interaction has purpose, with each in revealing new puzzle pieces that make it impossible not to lean into the unsettling scenarios with abandon.

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