Saturday, November 13, 2021

Yellowjackets, Lord of the Flies, Gender-Swapped with Horror Elements

Soccer teams and charter flights have a notorious history together—and so it continues. Recently, most charter flights for teen women have flown straight into disaster, at least in streaming series, like The Wilds. Twenty-five years later, none of the survivors of this crash want to talk about their harrowing ordeal, at all. That is fine by their mysterious blackmailer, who starts sending them cryptic postcards in creator-writers Ashley Lyle & Bart Nickerson’s Yellowjackets, which premieres tomorrow on Showtime.

The New Jersey girls’ high school state champions were on their way to nationals when their plane crashed somewhere in the remote Pacific Northwest mountains. It is a shame to miss the national championship, but it still might be better than Jersey, at least until their food starts to run out. There is also some distinctly bad mojo surrounding the cabin they discover. One of them is starting to freak out, maybe because she has a touch of the “shine.” Regardless, we know they will end up in some kind of bloody conflict from the fleeting fragments we are shown.

So, what happened exactly? Obviously, it deeply scarred Shauna Sheridan, who carries a heavy burden of remorse in the contemporary scenes. She also feels guilty for marrying her late bestie’s boyfriend, with whom she was secretly hooking up. Taissa Turner is maybe even more determined to keep the past buried, since she is running for the New Jersey State Senate (supposedly to bring in great changes as a crusading liberal, but since Dems have controlled the Jersey legislature since 2002, she’s really just offering more of the same).

Natalie is the wildcard, fresh out of rehab, but she does not want anyone shining a light on their time in the woods either and she is willing to wave around a shotgun to make her point. Initially, she suspects Misty Quigley, who back in the day was the geeky team trainer nobody liked. However, she reluctantly agrees to work with Quigley, a self-proclaimed amateur detective, to investigate their postcards, despite her suspicious eagerness.

If you dig flashbacks (or flashforwards) than this is the show for you. It is not that they are confusing. It is a question of pacing, based on the six episodes provided for reviewers (out of ten). The first episode is by far the worst offender, which is surprising, since it is the one helmed by Karyn Kusama (
Destroyer, The Invitation), but it often has the tone of a deliberately over the top WB teen melodrama spoof. The next five get smarter and tighter in dealing with all the dark secrets, but it really should be further along by the end of its sixth installment. As Scotty the reporter in The Thing from Another World would say, Yellowjackets nurses its secrets like a June bride.

Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci make it all guilty, lurid fun to watch anyway. Lewis is a total kick playing the boozy dissolute Natalie and Ricci is a hoot playing the slimily manipulative Quigley. There are times Lewis looks like she wants to bludgeon her with a table leg, which would be fine with viewers. Their scenery chewing keeps the show going.

In contrast, Melanie Lynskey is well cast as Sheridan, but her family drama quickly grows tiresome. Yet, the real momentum killing scenes involve Turner, played well enough by Tawny Cypress, who has predictably slanted political travails and an adopted son, who might be haunted by the Babadook, or whatever.

was transparently inspired by Lord of the Flies and the Uruguayan soccer team’s harrowing plane crash incident, but the horror elements slowly amp up over the course of the first six installments. Yet, it is Lewis’s razor-sharp tongue and attitude that will hook viewers. The series already feels padded, at least until she starts binge-drinking and menacing people with rifles, again. Frankly, that makes it totally grabby, despite its conspicuous faults. Recommended as trashy entertainment, Yellowjackets premieres tomorrow night (11/14) on Showtime.