Roush Review: ‘Yellowjackets’ Combines Survival Thrills With a Contemporary Mystery

Ella Purnell and Sophie Nélisse on the plane in the Yellowjackets pilot


Matt's Rating: rating: 4.0 stars

Words designed to be eaten later in regret: “As long as nobody does anything crazy, we have nothing to worry about.” Maybe Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), one of several survivors of a notorious tragedy 25 years earlier, isn’t aware that Juliette Lewis — the embodiment of lunacy in so many film and TV projects — is playing one of her former companions in peril.

Yellowjackets is a luridly intriguing melodrama about a fictional state-champion team of female high-school soccer players whose dreams of national triumph crashed along with their private plane, which went down in a northern wilderness in 1996. Seemingly inspired by the 1972 crash of a Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes, the Showtime series toggles between a disaster/survival story with disturbing Lord of the Flies-like flashbacks—desperate teens descending into tribal rivalries and animal savagery over 19 months — and a contemporary mystery in which the adult survivors’ suburban veneer and vows of silence begin to crack when someone starts dredging up their secrets all these years later.

Many roles are doubly cast, young and older, and it’s fun to see them evolve: Shauna (played as a teen by Sophie Nélisse) is the elite student-athlete who matures into a seemingly mousy and unhappy wife and mother — but beware the rabbit that strays into her garden. While adult Shauna learns to let her hair down, we’re introduced to her more obviously twisted counterparts: Lewis as the unhinged Natalie, once a druggy wild child (Sophie Thatcher) from an abusive home, and Christina Ricci’s deceptively chipper Misty, bullied when she was the resourceful team manager (Sammi Hanratty), now paying it back to unruly patients at a nursing home.

Early on, we see that the girls are killers — on the soccer field, anyway — especially the arrogant Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown as a teen), who stirs up headlines as an adult (Tawny Cypress) when she runs for state office. Suddenly, a reporter with shady credentials is asking, “So what do you think really happened out there?” Wouldn’t everyone like to know? Turns out a political attack ad with a cannibalism punchline could be the least of her problems.

The Cast of Yellowjackets

Brendan Meadows/SHOWTIME

These unsavory hooks make Yellowjackets an appropriately suspenseful companion to Showtime’s rebooted Dexter: New Blood. Not having seen the entire season, I won’t assume that the teammates who haven’t reappeared yet as adults are necessarily dead. I only know that as disaster thrillers go, this is a lot less embarrassing than NBC’s cartoonish La Brea.

Yellowjackets, Series Premiere, Sunday, November 14, 10/9c, Showtime