‘Wilderness’ Review: A Fun, Chaotic Prime Video Thriller

‘Wilderness’ Review: A Fun, Chaotic Prime Video Thriller

One of the extraordinary delusions of patriarchy suggests that if women are “good” or “wholesome,” they will be rewarded. Those prizes can come in different forms but typically encompass an ideal life with a perfect partner and children. Any imperfections and cracks can only exist beyond the frame of what’s being showcased to the public. In actuality, patriarchy has no winners. It’s a suffocating mirage. The disillusionment of being an “idyllic” woman quickly becomes too much of a burden. While some people can stick it out to the bitter end, others claw their way out of this suppressed existence or lose themselves trying to escape.

Adapted from B.E. Jones’ novel of the same name, Amazon Prime Video’s six-episode series “Wilderness” focuses on betrayal and vengeance. The revenge thriller begins on the open roads somewhere in the American West. A British couple, Liv (Jenna Coleman) and Will Taylor (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) are riding in a blue Mustang and basking in the sun. Though the pair look like they could be placed on the cover of a J.Crew catalog, their relationship isn’t quite so picturesque.

“Wilderness” then pulls the viewer nine months into the past. Fresh from the U.K., Will and Liv are ecstatic to settle into a gorgeous New York City apartment. Will has been promoted to events manager at his hospitality company. Unfortunately, their relocation has put Liv’s career as a journalist on hold. Without a work visa, she’s along for the ride, relegated to keeping house and working on her novel. Though things seem magical initially, the duo’s first Christmas in Manhattan crumbles in a frenzy of smashed pies and shattered ornaments when Liv learns Will has cheated on her.

After begging for forgiveness and promising his transgression was just a one-time thing, Will gives Liv the honeymoon of a lifetime, a road trip through the West Coast. At first, Liv seems intent on forgiving her husband and moving forward, resetting their life and marriage. Yet, just before the duo embarks on their adventure, Liv learns that Will’s affair with his co-worker Cara (Ashley Benson) is much more involved than he admitted. Enraged by Will’s deceit, Liv keeps these newfound revelations to herself and begins plotting her husband’s “accidental” death during their vacation. However, her plans are thwarted when the pair crosses paths with Cara and her oblivious boyfriend Garth (Eric Balfour) during a hike in Yosemite National Park.

Female hysteria has been a label and tool used to control women for centuries. However, stories like “Gone Girl,” “Promising Young Woman,” and even the television adaptation of “Fatal Attraction” all centering vengeful ladies are finally unpacking the circumstances that would drive a clearheaded woman to the brink. Dealing with broken trust is painful in itself. But to be constantly lied to and gaslit by the person who promised to be your safe space could drive anyone to madness, female-identifying or otherwise.

Throughout the premiere and into the second episode, there is nothing spectacular about “Wilderness.” The typical plot points are all present as the audience waits with bated breath to see which of Will’s lies might finally unleash the rage brewing beneath Liv’s skin. Yet, as the show moves into Episode 3, everything shifts. Liv’s plan is pushed off course, and the resulting action and violence are shocking enough to make the viewer sit up just a bit straighter. Additionally, creator Marine Dickens is careful to ensure the women in the series aren’t positioned in competition with one another. Talia Balsam as Will’s boss, Bonnie, and Marsha Stephanie Blake as Detective Rawlins are great, but Coleman is wickedly fantastic as Liv. She can endear the audience to Liv and her plight in one scene only to unleash her monstrosity in the next. Similarly, Will slowly shifts from irritating to repugnant, leaving the audience with no one to root for, but still determined to see who might come out on top in the couple’s increasingly retaliative relationship.

Despite its enticing twists and turns, “Wilderness” has some blemishes that are so baffling and surreal that they lean into the realm of trash TV. Since the series’ central themes are infidelity and revenge, it has some soap opera-leaning elements with overtly predictable outcomes. After all, what is a scandal-fueled drama without a chaotic gunfight? The overdramatization is reinforced by fragments of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor’s Version)” playing across the show. Also, revelations about Liv’s past, including the reason for her strained relationship with her meddling and aggrieved mother, Caryl (Claire Rushbrook), are too belatedly revealed. Finally, Liv’s “friendship” with her neighbor Ash (Morgana Van Peebles), who is strangely besotted with the Brit, feels perfunctory.

Still, when it’s all said and done, “Wilderness” offers viewers more than a window into the mind of an aggrieved wife. Instead, it portrays a marriage built on lies and what happens when those deceptions fray, revealing the truth. As Liv and Will quickly learn, the facade they’ve created for onlookers has subsequently imprisoned them, transforming them into the most diabolical versions of themselves. That’s the thing about marriage: Once the commitment is made, wrapping your world around someone else’s, untangling the webs and roots merged in the union becomes nearly impossible. It’s especially true when you become intent on being the last one standing at the expense of your better half.

“Wilderness” premieres Sept. 15 on Prime Video.