DISCLAIMER: This review of Prime Video’s Wilderness contains mild spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Look what you made her do.
The anticipation for Wilderness, Prime Video’s latest revenge thriller adapted from the B.E Jones novel of the same name, skyrocketed thanks to its use of Taylor Swift‘s “Look What You Made Me Do” as its theme song. Swift’s version of the tune debuted in the show’s official trailer last month. Now that the six-episode series is on the streamer, let’s dive into whether it’s adding to your weekend watchlist.
“Based on B.E. Jones’ novel of the same name, Wilderness features British couple Liv and Will, who seem to have it all: a rock-solid marriage, a glamorous new life in New York thousands of miles from their provincial hometown, and still young enough to feel that their whole lives are ahead of them. Until Liv learns about Will’s affair. Heartbreak is swiftly followed by another emotion: fury. Revenge is her only option, and when Will proposes a trip around America’s epic National Parks to give their relationship a fresh start, Liv knows just how to get it…”
Wilderness stars Jenna Coleman as Liv Taylor, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Will Taylor, Ashley Benson as Cara, Morgana Van Peebles as Ash, Eric Balfour as Garth and Claire Rushbrook as Caryl. The series was created and written by Marnie Dickens, with episode four penned by Matilda Feyisayo Ibini and all six episodes directed by So Yong Kim. I love that the behind-the-camera creative team mainly consists of women.
“I Don’t Like Your Little Games…”
First thing’s first, if you’re a fan of the book, don’t expect this series adaptation to adhere closely to the source material. Liv doesn’t set three challenges for Will to pass that boast deadly consequences. That’s to the show’s detriment, as it would’ve raised the stakes significantly and provided a fun, high-octane twist to the stereotypical “woman scorned” narrative. Instead, Wilderness is an all-too-predictable story that’s bolstered by its performances. We’ve seen the married philanderer before. We know the angered wife. So, don’t watch this for originality; watch it for Jenna Coleman.
Coleman gives a masterclass performance. Liv isn’t a one-dimensional Mary Sue-type character. She’s messy, complex and dark. You feel for Liv and her situation while recognizing that she does her fair share of damage. Coleman delves into Liv’s depths to offer a fully-formed, nuanced take on a character we’ve seen before. Liv is equal parts fiery fury and painful vulnerability. Coleman is adept at communicating with her eyes, at saying so much without uttering a word. She carries this series on her back.
Jackson-Cohen is a solid supportive player and antagonistic force for Coleman. The pair possesses natural on-screen chemistry that ranges from sweet to sizzling to prickly, sometimes within minutes. Jackson-Cohen is no stranger to playing gaslighting assholes, and he does a great job of fulfilling that role once again. He knows how to make a character utterly despicable.
“I Don’t Like Your Perfect Crime…”
Wilderness could’ve stood to flesh out its supporting cast more, namely Van Peebles’ Ash. Ash is reduced to the supportive Black friend role, who provides emotional labor for Liv, her white friend. It’s a frustrating stereotype that does the character and Van Peebles a disservice. By the end of the season, we still don’t know much about Ash, even though Van Peebles shines whenever she’s on screen.
Rushbrook, who plays Liv’s mother, Caryl, is the only supporting character who feels more realized than the rest. She gives a beautifully touching performance as a mother watching her daughter go down the path of marital destruction. Rushbrook and Coleman’s scenes are a show highlight and the only real insight into who Liv is. Benson and Balfour provide serviceable performances as Cara and Garth, but they’re merely plot points to propel the story.
Speaking of the story, it’s inconsistent on the pacing front, bouncing between a crawl-like tempo and a steady gait. However, the narrative highs are pretty enjoyable. Most of the excitement comes from Coleman’s and Jackson-Cohen’s explosive scenes and their respective in-depth character work.
Additionally, the real tension derives from Liv and Will navigating the aftermath of Will’s infidelity. Again, we’re familiar with stories of affairs, but audiences will be drawn to the characters in Wilderness, first and foremost. Dialogue-wise, it veers into soap opera territory, which is generally part and parcel of a series of this nature.
My other complaint: Wilderness doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it a campy revenge drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously? Or is it a super dark, propulsive thriller that explores the depths of the human soul? It doesn’t push the envelope enough in either direction. Instead, the show noncommittally dips its toes in both pools. I wish the series didn’t play it so safe in some respects — that and really explore the power and importance of expressing female rage.
“But I Got Smarter, I Got Harder in the Nick of Time…”
Overall, Wilderness has moments where viewers see the potential, but ultimately, it’s a predictable narrative that offers nothing innovative. That said, it’s worth watching for Jenna Coleman alone. Coleman and Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s venomous back-and-forth is entertaining enough to keep the series afloat (at least for one watch-through).
Wilderness Season 1 is now streaming on Prime Video.