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“Wilderness” is a Tapestry of Consequences

This review contains spoilers for Prime Video’s Wilderness.

We open on a convertible car so blue it looks as if it were a drop from the clear daytime sky above it. In it, a grinning couple who unknowingly run over a black widow spider, the attractive pair looking picture-perfect in more ways than one. Liv (Jenna Coleman) makes it clear in her voiceover monologue that the perfection of such an image comes not from genuinity, but from meticulous construction. Evidently, her marriage to Will Taylor (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is far rockier than the terrain surrounding them.

Prime Video’s Wilderness is an adaptation of B.E. Jones’s novel of the same name. Liv takes the viewer into her confidence as we discover the extent of her husband’s betrayal alongside her while she keeps her knowledge a secret. She seeks out everything from the identity of the woman her husband is defiling his marriage with to her running schedule, her gym and her nightclub of choice. Liv bides her time, seemingly allowing her husband to marinate in his lies in the days leading up to their “trip of a lifetime”, or as Liv has been planning, the last one Will would have. Rather than being a tale of will-they-won’t-they (fix their marriage), it is a tale of will-she-won’t-she (kill her husband). What was supposed to be a belated honeymoon to rescue a marriage becomes a game of cat and mouse and the viewer constantly wonders, at what point does this blow up in their faces?

Some have compared Wilderness’s Liv Taylor to the likes of Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne. Both have a penchant for winning the audience over with the actions of their flawed and wronged selves. Liv, however, proves to be far less calculating than her Gone Girl counterpart, for she goes from a clever murder attempt that could easily be classed as accidental drowning while the couple go rafting to pushing her husband off a waterfall cliff in a fit of blinding rage. Her “husband” whom she pushed turned out to be Cara Specker, her husband’s colleague who followed them to their hiking trail in Yosemite. Who also happens to be the woman Will is having an affair with.

This turn of events could almost take on the colour of a dark farce. Coupled with Liv’s f*ck-around-and-find-out attitude to her murder plot, Wilderness did miss out on the opportunity to be truly unique as a black absurdist thriller piece. Had the show mimicked the campiness and self-satirising elements of its aptly-chosen theme song, Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do, perhaps the end result would have been far more subversive and original. It is worth noting that the vengeful characters of Liv Taylor and Amy Dunne are portrayed by women who are cisgender, white, able-bodied and conventionally attractive, which begs the question, how far would viewer sympathy go had Liv not been one or more of these things?

Some recent pieces of genre media have taken an oft-used trope and comically subverted it to make fun of certain overused cliches and/or to expose the insensitive and problematic nature of such motifs. Deadloch, another Prime original, is one such series. The Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan-created show (titled Funny Broadchurch while it was in development) takes common Nordic noir tropes like flawed protagonists, bleak atmospheres and a small town plagued by violent crimes, which more often than not victimise women, and pulls its pants inside-out to reveal a distinctive, freshly feminist satire. While it is sincere, Wilderness may have been a more innovative creation had it taken the opportunity to do something similar within its genre.

A series that is otherwise well-made and features excellent performances, Wilderness is a gratifying and cathartic tale of revenge. In a world that is hastily and cruelly withdrawing the human rights and bodily autonomy that women have fought for centuries to have, the series serves as relevant and timely representation, or a reminder, that sadistically pushing somebody to their limit time and time again inevitably results in pushback. And this pushback can be deadly.

Perhaps, this lesson on the consequences of pushing someone to the end of their tether is something that Prime Video and its partners in the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Pictures Trade Partners) should take to heart. This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes in favour of fair compensation and employment protection for its artists. Without the creativity and labour of members of such unions, work like this would not exist.

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