Showtime's Gory Survivalist Thriller 'Yellowjackets' Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Inspired by 'Lord of the Flies,' the series follows a high school girls soccer team as they try to survive in the wilderness after their plane to nationals crashes.

ella purnell in yellowjackets, Sophie Nélisse in yellowjackets
Ella Purnell and Sophie Nélisse | Showtime
Ella Purnell and Sophie Nélisse | Showtime

With the amount of plane crash dramas that come out of Hollywood (Lost, Manifest, The Wilds), it's only natural to think about how you would try to survive in the wilderness with no certain help coming to airlift you out of that disaster. Would you put your Scouts' knowledge to good use? Would you try to find help? Or maybe you know that you'd never make it—either your mind would go or you'd get killed, one way or another.

On Showtime's new 10-part thriller Yellowjackets, which premieres on Sunday, November 14, a high school girls' soccer team are TV's latest plane crash survivors. Each member falls into some sort of survivalist stereotype, but their time spent fending for their lives gets a lot darker and graphic than many of its predecessors. Co-created by husband and wife duo Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Narcos, Narcos: Mexico), the splashy, gruesome, and at times funny show is told in two timelines—one in 1996, the year of the crash, and one in the present—following the teenage girls, their coach/teacher Mr. Scott (Ben Krueger), and the sons of their now-dead coach as they try to survive in the Ontario wilderness after their private plane to nationals goes down, and the ones who made it out alive and into adulthood. What unfolds is a frightening look at the lengths humans go to stay alive—even if it means stripping themselves of their humanity in the process—and the trauma that lingers from it.

yellowjackets teenage cast, sophie thatcher in yellowjackets
Sophie Thatcher and Keeya King | Showtime

While part of the show takes place in the woods, just as much of it it set on the outside where other horrors haunt the remaining grown-up Yellowjackets, Shauna, Misty, Natalie, and Taissa (played by '90s stars Melanie Lynsky, Christina Ricci, and Juliette Lewis, and Tawny Cypress). On the 25th anniversary of the crash, someone is taunting them in increasingly dangerous ways and threatening to reveal what really happened all those years ago. The story that they've stuck to that they "starved and scavenged and prayed" never seemed like the whole truth. And it isn't: The first episode, directed by Jennifer's Body filmmaker Karyn Kusama, makes it clear that once the snow starts to fall and the food stash runs out, the Yellowjackets resort to cannibalism—and to a very graphic extent.

Even with all of the gore—from rashes that'll make your own skin crawl to carcasses filled with maggots—it's hard to peel your eyes away. The show's weekly rationing of episodes works in its favor, considering all of the twists that unfold. Immediately, you'll be wondering who you can trust, both in the past and present. For example, annoying, bullied JV player Misty (Sammi Hanratty), who assures her teammates that she has taken two babysitting certification courses, becomes invaluable after the crash, which makes her feel needed for the first time in her life. As an adult, she's a no-nonsense nurse who spends her time as an armchair detective (played hysterically by goth icon Christina Ricci), but, past and present, you can't help but wonder what her true motives are. These characters keep you on your toes, and so do the unpredictable plot elements in the mysterious threats that the women receive in 2021 and the rising tension in the woods. There's even a tease at elements of the supernatural—but it may just be (and hopefully is, for the sake of the show's quality) a trick of the mind, the sort of skittish paranoia that rises amidst fear, starvation, dehydration, and hopelessness. 

christina ricci in yellowjackets
Christina Ricci | Showtime

While the pulpy show is an addicting psychological thriller, the ultimate lifeline that makes it standout from other survival series is that it's really about the humanity of these women, and to the degrees in which it's tainted. The young cast (led by Hanratty, Ella Purnell, Sophie Nélisse, Jasmin Savoy Brown, and Sophie Thatcher) hold their own as girls who try to be strong but harbor fears of what's going on at home or what their peers think, and they try to be good to their friends, but still knowingly hurt each other. Their counterparts give crushing performances about the doldrums of middle age when society casts women aside. Surviving adolescence and midlife crises as a woman are just as hard as surviving a plane crash on Yellowjackets, but the show is full of fighters. But gore aside, as watchable as it is, it never has to fight to keep your attention.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She's on Twitter and Instagram.