Wilderness review: Jenna Coleman is gloriously messy in unusual thriller
The new Prime Video series is full of female rage but is let down by some of the tropes it insists on leaning on.
At six episodes long, Wilderness is the ideal kind of revenge thriller in a sense. It's dramatic, full of twists, unpredictability and immoral character arcs – it just isn't always totally convincing.
The new Prime Video drama is soapy in all the right places, delivering a constant flurry of startling discoveries alongside red hot anger. More importantly, though, Wilderness is a complicated tale of betrayal, love and unashamed female rage.
Following Liv (Jenna Coleman) as she struggles to make sense of her husband Will's (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) betrayal while embarking on a cross-country American road trip together, it weaves in sex, deceit, lies and a slow-burning plot to take him down.
While the drama entirely unfolds from Liv's perspective, it doesn't mean she's an easy-to-understand or terribly likeable character. But that's all relative as, with the help of Coleman's enthralling performance, you'll quickly find yourself happily tucking into episode after episode to see what our complicated protagonist will do next.
Known for an array of roles in The Serpent, The Cry, Doctor Who and lest we forget Emmerdale, Coleman's beguiling on-screen presence is a perfect match for the ever-complicated Liv, just as long as you ignore the bad Welsh accent put on for this role.
Liv is unguessable and it's because of this that the series is both driven forward by a need to figure out what she'll do next, while also remaining confusing in places. Her constant flitting between having the perfect plan to acting out in a completely different way can be frustrating to watch, but is also encompassing of the range of emotions that the series seeks to explore.
While the drama focuses on Will's betrayal of Liv, the finer details of Wilderness are the ones that will keep you tuning in. The relationship between Liv and her mother Caryl (Claire Rushbrook) is a messy mother-daughter dynamic that paves the way for how Liv thinks of herself as a wife in her adult life, while also living with the guilt and disappointment of the past.
Similarly, in her interactions with New York neighbour Ash (Morgana Van Peebles), Liv is allowed space to process her emotions and rage without feeling judged. It's in these smaller asides from the main tense pull of the drama that we truly get a sense of the chaotic heroine-like character at the heart of Wilderness.
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While TV and film doesn't have a vast plethora of content centring on the complexity of female emotion, there are some very similar watches that viewers will likely draw comparisons to.
It's hard not to when the internal monologue narration, overarching revenge plot and slow-burning nature of a bigger plan is all too reminiscent of movies like Gone Girl or Fatal Attraction. Like the former Gillian Flynn novel-turned-movie, Coleman commands attention in the same way as Rosamund Pike, a feat not to be scoffed at.
But it's her character's decisions that snap the audience out of any type of transfixed state here. Are we really to believe that all it took is a plane ticket to convince Liv to go on a trip of forgiveness with Will? Or that a woman as smart as she is would really believe the things this serial liar continues to tell her?
While Liv's decisions in the series will inevitably leave fans bewildered, it's the very fact that a character such as Liv enthrals you so much that means you'll undoubtedly have strong feelings about what's to come in Wilderness.
Much of the show's slickness comes in the earlier episodes when the road trip gets under way and we're plagued by the thought of Liv killing Will at any point in their trip. The on-screen easiness and doe-eyed expressions of Liv all make it seem as though everything is well, but with the help of flashbacks, we soon see Liv's plan come into view.
Women wanting to exact revenge on the men that have tricked them over isn't a novel concept, but here Wilderness both turns its back on tired tropes and also, unfortunately, leans into them.
While the production is very much female-led behind the scenes, the series doesn't quite achieve the well-rounded depiction of female emotion as one would hope.
Think of any scene in TV when a woman finds out something tragic and you're instantly confronted with images of excessive drinking, sliding down walls, crying, wiping their noses on oversized knitted cardigans and screaming ‘But I loved you’ at their partners, who are pretty much mute walls in the face of their emotions. Right? Well, rather annoyingly, Liv feeds into all of those tropes in some way or another.
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With pacing that feels rather slow in its New York scenes, the later episodes can feel like a bit more of a slog to watch but, as previously stated, at six episodes long, Wilderness very much ticks all the boxes you want of a revenge thriller.
We get windows into some of the wider themes at play in the series, like the role of the wife, identity and the demonisation of women's actions no matter what they do. But it's these very themes that I would've loved to have seen fleshed out more succinctly, perhaps at the expense of one of Liv and Will's multiple shouting matches.
Ultimately, Wilderness is a thriller with some pretty juicy turns and a character that many women will side with, and leaves room for some reflection, even if there could have been more.
Wilderness will premiere on Prime Video on 15th September 2023. If you have yet to subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can Sign up now for £8.99 a month.
Like this? You might want to try Dr. Death. Available now on Lionsgate+.
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