Yellowjackets review: The word-of-mouth hit that should be top of your watch list

When he wrote Lord of the Flies, author William Golding was repeatedly asked why he didn’t explore the idea of girls being lost in the wilderness.

He famously said that girls put in such a difficult situation would not react in a way that reflected a scaled-down version of the crumbling of society in the way boys would.

It’s probably for the best he never got to see Yellowjackets, where anarchy and brutality abound

Arguably the best new show you might not have heard of, Yellowjackets finishes its first season on Sky and Now TV this weekend, so it’s the perfect time to binge watch this word-of-mouth sleeper hit – if you’ve got the nerves for it.

Yellowjackets’ ten episode run started with very little fanfare in the UK just before Christmas, tying in with a similar low-key launch in the US where it airs on Showtime, home of Dexter – a show it shares a matter-of-fact gruesomeness with.

It centres on a high school girls football team who get stranded for 19 months in the wilderness after a plane crash on their way to a tournament.

You can imagine the pitch meeting with someone enthusiastically explaining it was Lost meets Lord of the Flies via The Wicker Man with a hefty dose of girl power in there for good measure.

And there’s no denying it borrows, sometimes heavily, from the tropes of those kind of survival dramas, but the characterisation and acting takes it to the next level in a way that is memorable and surprisingly understated.

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Set in two timelines, we swap between the crash in 1996 and 2021 when, some of the girls at least, are still trying to come to terms with everything that happened – although there’s enough tight camera shots and ritualistic mask-wearing in the flashbacks that part of the intrigue of the show is trying to figure out exactly who will end up making it out alive.

You’d think that the overwhelming feeling of creepy foreboding would be minimalised because, well, you know Natalie-from-1996 survives because the 2021 version of her is played by Juliette Lewis.

But the show still ratchets up the tension in a way that makes watching it border on being masochistically addictive.

It is uncomfortable viewing at times but also incredibly compelling.

Playing very much on its 1990s vibe – there’s even a retro Spotify playlist which will leave people of a certain age tapping their toes happily – Juliette Lewis is joined by other 90s stalwarts Christina Ricci and Heavenly Creatures’ Melanie Lynsky alongside Tawny Cypress as the broken women who have tried to pull their lives together after such a traumatic experience to varying degrees of success.

But don’t underestimate the strength of the younger ensemble, with Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), Misty (Samantha Hanratty), Jackie (Ella Purnell) and Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) all able to make you care as much about the day-to-day cliques of teenage life as amputations, death and cannibalism.

And there is a lot of cannibalism.

Yellowjackets a surprisingly engaging psychological drama with a building sense of oppressive foreboding that lifts it beyond schlocky horror, although – be warned – there are some moments of shocking violence.

Not since the opening ten minutes of The Boys has a show nailed its colours to the mast in such a way that you will know early whether it’s your sort of thing or leaves you going ‘nope, no, this absolutely crosses the line and is not for me’.

But if it does chime with you, the twists and turns of the narrative (which allow the audience to turn Citizen Detectives to try and unravel the mystery of exactly what went down in the wilderness) and some of the most memorable and well-written female characters depicted on TV for a long time make it thought-provoking and fulfilling watch.

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