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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Explores Girlhood

Because what is more terrifying than teenaged girls.

By Entertainment, Featured

Samantha Hanratty and Courtney Eaton in “Yellowjackets” (2021-).

You might have heard of “Yellowjacketsdescribed as a new show similar to “Lord of the Fliesand “Heathers. These are accurate descriptions. With its premise of a stranded soccer team and ‘90s nostalgia, “Yellowjacketsis a show that reckons with our culture’s history of sublimating women’s experiences, or in this case, girls’. It is timely, in our trauma-obsessed culture, to create a show that recognizes girlhood as being just as gorey and haunting as boyhood — that girlhood can be equally traumatizing. “Yellowjacketsrises to the occasion. It’s a relatable, campy horror show for young women about adolescence and the pasts that follow us.

When watching “Yellowjackets,” it’s clear someone on their creative team loves gore. The premise is that in 1997, a varsity high school soccer team of mostly junior and senior girls is on their way to nationals when the plane they’ve rented crashes down. They land somewhere vaguely in north Canada, in the remote wilderness. They lose signal, and they have no way of contacting civilization.

What follows is a brutal game of survival, physical and negotiated, as the girls team up and turn on each other, shifting alliances. As the girls face the extremely physical survival tasks before them, they also have to handle the classic tropes of puberty, popularity, bodies, female friendships, and drama. There are periods and pregnancy and emerging sexuality and fighting because who has ever said teenage girls aren’t mean?

There are wolves and winter and hunger and blood. The horror is deliciously two-fold. It comes both from living in pubescent bodies and from the haunted cabin in the middle of the woods they stumble upon, the only shelter that will keep, most of them, from freezing to death. Of course, if driven to sleep outside by that horrific teenage girl drama I mentioned, one of the girls may not be so lucky.

We become aware of the physical realities of their bodies, which are the bodies of athletes and champions, as winter closes in and they slowly run out of food. A fan favorite, bad girl Nat, played by Sophie Thatcher, takes the gun they found in the cabin out to hunt with the coach’s son Travis, played by Kevin Alves, but there’s no more food for miles. So, the team makes up a game. They begin to literally eat each other.

This works as a metaphor for the way girls turn on each other, and it also just makes sense to them since they’re starving, and the extreme climate has eliminated other dinner options. Devil’s advocate, they do give each other the option to run beforehand. Thank God they did all those drills at practice.

Despite everything, they remain a team. Decked out in matching varsity jackets and jerseys, with animal pelts and furs slung over top to keep warm, we’re constantly reminded of that fact — that they are indeed a team, and a ferocious one at that, even when things get a little messy. Especially for chronic best friend Shauna, played by Sophie Nélisse, who is put in charge of bleeding out the meat before the team can feast, and who might have lived in the shadow of perfect team captain Jackie, played by the irreplaceable Ella Purnell, for just a little too long.

I mean, have you seen Ella Purnell? She’s almost too believable as the perfect best friend you kind of hate, total homecoming queen material. In fact, all of the casting of “Yellowjackets” delivers. They’re a lovable set of stock characters that the talented young actors bring to life, fleshing them out enough to be real (pardon my cannibalism joke) while maintaining their identities as ‘90s tropes. We even get to see a few of them in the future. Not all of them, unfortunately, due to that questionable diet they adopt at the beginning of the second season.

In an effective use of a classic horror trope, the remaining members of the yellowjackets are drawn together after fifteen years. These scenes from the future solidify the metaphor for trauma the writers are making as the ghost from the cabin follows the team back home. The writers riff on this subtextual metaphor and classic plot device. We see the older characters in therapy, repeating old patterns and trying to get well. We sometimes question whether they’re being followed by an actual ghost, or if they’re just being haunted by the lingering trauma of what they witnessed. It’s left intentionally unclear.

In this way, “Yellowjacketsfunctions as a meditation on trauma and adolescence, as well as just being really freaking entertaining for anyone who loves campy horror. Come for the commentary on being a girl against the world, and stay for the nostalgia. “Yellowjackets” has two seasons out on Showtime, and has been renewed for a third pending delays from the SAG-AFTRA strike. This is the new show you’ve been wanting to binge this Halloween season. Sorry to leave you with another cannibalism joke.

Katie MacLauchlan (MFAW 2025) has read a lot of books. She is the literature editor at F Newsmagazine.
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