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Wilderness review: A pulpy thriller with wasted potential

Prime Video's new series is all twisted fun and games—until it betrays its exciting promise

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Jenna Coleman and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Wilderness
Jenna Coleman and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Wilderness
Photo: Kailey Schwerman/Prime Video

The title of Prime Video’s new psychological thriller, Wilderness, isn’t only about the vast and open space where most of the show’s tense action unfolds. It also embodies a grander metaphor about the wasteland that is the cursed relationship of Liv (Jenna Coleman) and Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Their marriage appears picture-perfect on the surface, but it’s rooted in deep abandonment issues and their chances of surviving together seem basically non-existent. Over the course of six episodes, Wilderness (which premieres September 15) navigates the wild maze of a romance that was pretty much doomed from the start.

Wilderness evokes a narrative cliché: the wronged woman on a path of revenge. It clearly references hits like Fatal Attraction and Gone Girl, even using the phrase “bunny-boiler” at some point. Despite these classics looming in the background, the TV drama gets brownie points for trying something different with the topic. It doesn’t subvert the genre as much as embrace it for all it’s worth. There’s no startling innovation here, and it still works because the trope itself exists and is fun for a reason. The early episodes of Wilderness are twisted and entertaining, as Liv unravels Will’s web of lies and plots vengeance. It’s edge-of-your-seat and pulpy. (Episode two, in particular, is a remarkable, surprisingly sentimental standout.) And then boom, the excitement tapers off.


Sadly, Wilderness falls back on its own promise of a complex tale of all-consuming revenge, desire, and death by concluding with a timid version of the story it started. Marnie Dickens’ screenplay is based on B.E. Jones’ novel of the same name—but the book is far more audacious and playful than its adaptation. The show doesn’t take as many creative risks and ends up as a straightforward and somewhat preachy thriller, dulling the impact of its engaging beginning.


Back to that beginning: The show kicks off when Liv and Will move from the U.K. to New York City after he gets a fancy new job. It means a lavish apartment and a fresh start away from their respective toxic families. However, once she discovers his infidelity with a coworker, Cara (Ashley Benson), Liv’s image of a happy marriage is shattered. The facade of his perfection fades because the so-called love of her life is a master manipulator and gaslighter. He eventually convinces her to go on her dream vacation, road-tripping across the Arizona desert, as a way to reconnect. And that’s when it hits her: The dangerous terrain doubles as the perfect spot for an “accident.” If she gets rid of Will, she gets rid of having to live with him and the knowledge that he might move on with another woman someday.

Credit where it’s due because Wilderness’ script succeeds in portraying Liv as a complicated person, and she makes for the most interesting character study here. “I’m the sick fuck,” she says. “I’m the heroine. I’m the villain. I’m the everywoman.” She accepts her flaws because she knows she’s unable to let go of the cheating man she’s tied up with. Don’t worry, Wilderness wisely turns the tables, evolving Liv believably as the rug is constantly pulled from under her feet. Coleman is a consistent delight in this role, bringing exceeding levels of empathy and expressiveness to Liv as rage and ego tend to drive her decisions.

Wilderness - Official Trailer | Prime Video

Jackson-Cohen, meanwhile, is increasingly menacing as Will’s hidden truths come to light. At this point, he’s an expert at playing suspicious roles (The Invisible Man, The Haunting Of Bly Manor, Surface), and here he viciously commands the screen while sharing sultry chemistry with both Coleman and Benson. That keeps the momentum going when Wilderness starts to falter, as the show takes a predictable route once everyone actually leaves the wilderness. (It doesn’t help that we’re taken away from the beautiful scenery, which is used to great cinematic effect by director So Yong Kim.)

Liv’s plans to kill her partner go awry when Cara and her boyfriend, Garth (Eric Balfour), join them on the trip. The four of them bond amid stressful situations, leading Liv to reconsider her thought process. That doesn’t mean someone doesn’t meet their maker anyway, though. Wilderness struggles to carve a good murder mystery after that, and it forgoes thrilling suspense in favor of being didactic as Liv returns home. Which is disappointing, because the show sets up excellent gray-area characters and storylines. It just doesn’t care to explore them with the kind of tantalizing lens that makes an erotic, psychological saga tick.

Instead, the show gets duller once it pivots back to the big city. Liv is being watched by detectives while dealing with more romantic troubles. There’s a half-baked subplot about her neighbor and only friend, Ash (Morgana Van Peebles) that spins in circles. It almost feels like the writing caves under the pressure to say something and send a message, which takes away from the hook that intrigued us in the first place. Despite its wasted potential, Wilderness, as an overall package, at least manages to fulfill the craving for a buzzy thriller.


Wilderness premieres September 15 on Prime Video