“Yellowjackets” – Cannibalism, Sacrifice and Religion



Title: “Yellowjackets”

Release Date: 2021

Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress


“Yellowjackets” is a very original series proposal from Canal Plus that arouses strong and ambiguous emotions. Here we have the story of a group of teenage girls from a school soccer team put in extreme circumstances after the plane on which they were flying to the national championship game crashes in the middle of the wilderness in Ontario. The border situation, of course, triggers the protagonists’ primal instinct to survive at all costs. However, the methods chosen by the high school girls here gain a much broader dimension than just survivalist. Perhaps it even has a parabolic character like in the famous “Lord of the Flies.” However, while William Golding’s novel shows how totalitarianism arises, the series can be viewed as the story of the birth of a religious ritual.

“Yellowjackets” – in the wild forests of Ontario

Certainly, it can be said of the production of “Yellowjackets” that it stands out from the extremely extensive serial offerings of popular streaming platforms today. For here we have at least several genres in one. A story about initiation into adulthood, first sexual experiences and difficulties in establishing relationships is combined with a seasoned thriller, elements of horror, survival cinema and the drama of facing one’s past years later. We also have brilliantly outlined and built female characters, each with her own story, motivation and, of course, a secret shaping the trajectory of her fate. And most importantly: we have a harrowing plot that eludes clear-cut judgments.

The plot of the series takes place simultaneously in two timelines: it begins in 1996, when a plane with a girls’ soccer team crashes in the vast forests of the Rocky Mountains. Most of the passengers survive and try to survive in a completely wild environment. It quickly turns out that together they can do a lot, but in the remote wilderness there are completely different rules than in an American high school. And so the school’s despised nerd, Misty (Sammi Hanratty) becomes a real medical authority, shy and invisible Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) is able to frame hunted game with surgical precision, and coming from a pathological home Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) becomes the most talented hunter. In turn, those who, as if by principle, seem predestined for leadership roles, such as the coach (Steven Krueger) successively lose their position.

Yellowjackets series

“Yellowjackets” – the price of survival

Already at the beginning of the series we learn that many of the victims of the tragic flight survived and were rescued after nineteen months in the wild woods. How they managed to endure for so long, however, remains a mystery. Even after 25 years, none of the survivors wants to return to the past, but the past itself reappears in their barely cobbled together lives. The heroines, played by Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, Lauren Ambrose and Simone Kessell, will therefore have to renew relationships and solve quite a problem… The two seasons of the production shot so far still leave a lot of unknowns, so you can most likely expect another installment of the series.

However, the crux of the harrowing events is clearly outlined and a truly fractious puzzle is formed from the subsequent fragments of memories. The stay in the wilderness becomes a borderline experience for the heroines, which marks their entire later life. For in order to survive, they are forced to transgress one of the greatest taboos of the civilized world, namely cannibalism. It is this act of simultaneous aggression and transgression that is at the center of the series and acquires various meanings.

“Yellowjackets” – cannibalism, religion and cinema

The figure of the cannibal has marked the cinema of the postmodern era in a special way. Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs” is the most famous character who consumes human flesh with relish. He became a metaphor for modern consumerism, but also for a culture that devours itself, i.e. constantly recycling old patterns. Significant in this case was the Doctor’s predilection for consuming the brain – a symbol of the intellect.

Yellowjackets series review

Cannibalism in European culture was considered an impassable and abhorrent taboo. The term “cannibal” comes from the word “caribe” – this is how Christopher Columbus described the inhabitants of the Caribbean, describing their peculiar habits of eating human flesh. It was later used by Montaigne in his essay “Of Cannibals,” and in the form of an anagram it appeared in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” where Caliban – the son of a witch – is featured. The act of cannibalism itself fits into a variety of contexts. In addition to the most obvious one, that of satiating hunger, revenge (in many primitive cultures, eating the liver of a slaughtered enemy), a sexual act and, above all, ritual were important.

I think that in the series “Yellowjackets” cannibalism occurs not only as a method of survival, but clearly acquires a religious dimension. The spirit of the wilderness, as it were, demands a blood sacrifice, and one who has been initiated into its language becomes an advocate of this will. Thus, just as in “Lord of the Flies” the children unconsciously reproduce certain stages of social systems until their complete degeneration into totalitarianism, so here they repeat certain elements of the formation of beliefs. As Arthur Sandauer says, the scene present in Genesis, when Abraham replaces his son Isaac with a lamb he sacrifices, shows that Judaism was the first of the original religions to climb to a higher level of civilization than the others and to stop killing people for ritual purposes.

Whether this ritual element merely introduces a certain genre quality to the production – horror straight out of a horror movie – or whether it represents a deeper commentary on a modern culture seemingly sterilized of spirituality – remains an open question for me and probably for many viewers of “Yellowjackets.”