6 Things To Know About YA Horror Series Yellowjackets

Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci, and Juliette Lewis play adult versions of teen soccer players who survived a plane crash. But don't call this show Lost.

by | November 12, 2021 | Comments

The adage that we’ll always be the same people we were in high school gets particularly proven by the new Showtime suspense-horror series Yellowjackets.

Set during the past and present (with the past being the mid-’90s), the story follows members of an exceptionally talented all-girls soccer team from New Jersey who were on their way to a national tournament with their coaches and crew when their plane crashes in the wilderness. Those who survive the collision are suddenly left to forage for themselves in the great outdoors. Allegiances form (and then change). Starvation, injuries and death ensue. And those who do make it long enough to be rescued will be forever stunted by the experience.

The show is a coming-of-age young adult story as much as it is one of (sometimes gruesome) horror and supernatural scenes. And that’s exactly what the creators were going for.

“One of the things that we talked about a lot was sort of like, wanting to paint a variety of genre colors,” said Bart Nickerson, who created Yellowjackets with his wife, fellow writer Ashley Lyle. “One of the main things that we’re trying to do is talk about some things that are very serious. But we didn’t want to do it in an abstract way. What we really wanted to do is create something that was as totally engrossing as possible, so that the audience would feel what we were trying to talk about.”

But that’s not the only thing you need to know about the series. Rotten Tomatoes has asked the Yellowjackets creators and the cast to explain some of the biggest scenes and character twists in the story.

1. There Will Be Blood

Ella Purnell as Teen Jackie in YELLOWJACKETS

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

Much will be made of the series’ opening scene, which features a young woman in threadbare clothing — maybe Ella Purnell’s Jackie? Maybe Courtney Eaton’s Lottie? — running through the snowy wilderness. She falls into a deathtrap set out by masked hunters wearing what remains of soccer jerseys with a team logo that says “Yellowjackets.” They feast on her remains with the loud, guttural sounds of the starving.

“There were actually very few conversations about things that we couldn’t do,” Nickerson told Rotten Tomatoes when we chatted with the cast and creators recently. “I don’t even remember that gag, but there was [once] a note from the network that was ‘you should make this bloodier’ because part of the premium experience is some gore.”

Mission accomplished there. But this scene is just one of many disturbing images in the series. Another will ensure that this is not something to binge watch on a cross-country flight.

“We talked to a person who is an expert on plane crashes just to make sure that that scene was as realistic as possible. And that’s an upsetting conversation,” Lyle said.

Steven Krueger, who plays Yellowjackets coach Ben Scott in the flashback scenes, said that the filming involved a “fuselage of jet hooked up to a rig, almost like a flight simulator.”

“They just started twisting and turning the thing all over the place while we were strapped in and just let us react to it; which was an experience for sure,” he said.

2. Sophie Nélisse and Melanie Lynskey Portray Survivor Shauna Sadecki

Sophie Nélisse and Melanie Lynskey as Shauna in YELLOWJACKETS

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

The plane crash is only the beginning of the trauma the Yellowjackets will endure. Before the crash, Shauna Sadecki (who is played by Sophie Nélisse in the flashbacks) was the bookish sidekick to Purnell’s team captain, Jackie. Her concerns involved her acceptance to Brown and how to tell her best friend that she was no longer a virgin. In the present, Shauna (now portrayed by Melanie Lynskey) is a bored housewife feeling stagnant in life and still haunted by her experiences in the wilderness — something she doesn’t talk about with her husband (Warren Kole’s Jeff) and petulant daughter.

“There’s a long tradition of shows about men who do terrible things and everyone loves them anyway,” Lynskey said. “I think people just need to get used to having shows where women have dark secrets and have done violent things and terrible things and you’re still gonna watch it and love them.”

While it was hard to find exact comparison studies to do research for the show, Nélisse said that “there’s definitely some research on how does starvation affect your brain and how you go a little crazy with hallucinations. Your perspective on things change when you’re in that kind of situation.

“What’s so great about Shauna is that she is wonderful and smart and extremely caring. And she doesn’t always see this side of her, but she truly puts a lot of people in front of her,” Nélisse added.

Lynskey and Nélisse met for coffee to discuss the character and how decisions the younger actress would make in the flashbacks would inform what the older one would do in the present. Since neither woman is American, there were also talks about developing Shauna’s voice. For that, Lynskey leaned on some of her own personal history.

“My ex-husband is from New Jersey and he has a real thing about people doing too strong of a New Jersey accent,” Lynskey said of her former spouse, actor Jimmi Simpson. “He’s very specific about the fact that there’s only certain parts of Jersey where people have a true, strong New Jersey accent. So I’m always mindful of that.”

3. Jasmin Savoy Brown and Tawny Cypress Portray Survivor Taissa Turner

Jasmin Savoy Brown and Tawny Cypress as Taissa in YELLOWJACKETS

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

In high school, Tassia Turner (who is portrayed by Jasmin Savoy Brown) was a fearless competitor who would do anything to win both on and off the field. She was also not ready to be open about her sexuality. As an adult (and played by Tawny Cypress), she’s a New Jersey politician rising in the ranks who doesn’t like to talk about her time in the wilderness even as she sees how her secrets affect her wife and their small son.

“There were things that were innate, like the way that we hold ourselves as the character,” Cypress said of how they developed the character. “It’s very straight — very up and down. The lines are shoulders over butt over heels.”

And while there were conversations about parts of the character who would not change over time — Brown once texted Cypress from set to confirm how Taissa would pronounce the word “either” — Cypress said “it’s wild to see characters faced with such trauma.”

But her sexuality is not the only thing that Taissa doesn’t want to discuss. The character also has a gift for finding the supernatural.

“That power counterintuitive to who she is, because she’s not the person who believes in spirituality, religion, visions, any of that stuff,” Brown said. “So I think it disturbs her. And she doesn’t know what to do with it. At least as a teen, she doesn’t know what to do with it at this point. It’s kind of denial.”

4. Sophie Thatcher and Juliette Lewis Portray Survivor Natalie Scatorccio

Sophie Thatcher and Juliette Lewis as Natalie in YELLOWJACKETS

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

But the all-star Yellowjackets team isn’t just made up of driven or A+ students. There’s also Natalie Scatorccio (portrayed by Sophie Thatcher in flashbacks and Juliette Lewis in the present day). Natalie’s the one with the dark eye liner and love of Nirvana who’s most likely to have alcohol in her carry-on — a good thing, as it turns out; the plane crash survivors will need it to clean their wounds. Lewis and Thatcher said they bonded over musicians like Patti Smith, Blondie, and Nina Hagen in developing the character.

There’s also the debate as to whether Natalie actually likes soccer.

“I think it served as a distraction for her,” Thatcher said. “She happened to be naturally good at it. It gave her something to do. I don’t think it ever crossed her mind to, like, go to college for it.”

But does casting someone like Lewis, who is also known for movies like Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers and for fronting the rock band Juliette and the Licks, offer a (perhaps biased) shorthand for what Natalie might be like?

“You’re not wrong to think some actors like repetition or they want to be one thing,” Lewis says. “We’ve seen some people who are great at that. My dad was a character actor. I fancy myself a character actor. I like characters. I like to show different sides of myself. And no, I’ve never played such as this personality before and where she goes? There’s sort of a de-evolution. Where how she starts and where she ends up? You won’t see it coming.”

Both Thatcher and Lewis said they were aware of the supernatural elements of the show when they signed on. The creators frequently mentioned Rosemary’s Baby to Thatcher, while Lewis said that “I heard that word ‘supernatural’ being volleyed around and I could buy it. The forest — if you’ve ever spent time there on desert walks or drives, or in the middle of the night looking at the stars, you can sense a heighten or a supernaturalism in those spaces.”

5. Samantha Hanratty and Christina Ricci Portray Survivor Misty Quigley

Samantha Hanratty and Christina Ricci as Misty in YELLOWJACKETS

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

Like most stories of young adults, this one comes with an outsider of the group. In high school, the nerdy Misty Quigley (portrayed by Samantha Hanratty in the past and Christina Ricci in the present) isn’t even a member of the soccer team. She’s an assistant to the coaches. Before the crash, Misty spent her downtime in her bedroom pining for acceptance when all she got were crank calls. After the crash, she was one of the survivors’ most valuable assets because she had some basic medical training. So it’s not a surprise that she grew up to be an elder care nurse with a twisted sense of humor.

“Misty is definitely one of our favorite characters; she’s so much fun to write for,” Lyle said. “That character can become the ‘nerd who’s been wronged and goes on a revenge path’.”

Instead, Lyle said she sees Misty as a “spiritual sister” to Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse — another project about an awkward New Jersey teen who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t really grasp why — because “that movie doesn’t let her get away with just being a victim. She ends up being really hard to like, even as a viewer. But, because she’s hard to like, you almost like her more.” (The third episode of Yellowjackets is also titled “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”)

Hanratty liked the idea of showing what happens “when you push somebody so far and and you constantly are pushing them out … there are times when any of us would lose ourselves and I think that that’s where I have major compassion empathy for this character.”

It also helped that she got to look different from herself, Hanratty said, as Misty comes with her own special fashion sense and hairstyle. Hanratty even developed a certain walk for the character and she noticed that she and Ricci had a habit of pushing Misty’s glasses her nose in the same way.

“I found the character interesting because she is very different than anybody I’ve ever seen before,” Ricci said. “But [she’s] somebody that rings very true to me: grounded in reality, probably a bit of a sociopath, but at their core, once had a very innocent desire and drive. And then at a very pivotal time in their development, that drive and that desire was fulfilled in a way that was not the best version of that fulfillment.”

6. The Creators Know That the Lost Comparisons Will Happen

Yellowjackets cast

(Photo by Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

Lyle and Nickerson understand the natural need to compare their characters to the survivors of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815.

“I wouldn’t tune in to kind of expecting Lost redux, because I think you would have a very different show on your hands,” Nickerson said. Lyle noted that the TV show The Sopranos and the movie Analyze This have a similar premise but look totally different.

That said, we may have to go back.

“We can definitely do a second season; we definitely built it to be a show that ran for a bit,” Nickerson said.

Yellowjackets premieres at 10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 14 on Showtime.

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