When we think of the scariest teen-movie archetype, most of us picture a cruel, spoiled hottie. The quick wit of Regina George; the dark hair and bloody teeth of Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body; the synchronized quips of the Heathers. It’s often the mean, popular bullies who carry the most power, and the outcasts who rise up to defeat them are the righteous heroines, even if their methods are questionable.
Following a high school girls’ soccer team that gets stranded in the Canadian wilderness and descend into cannibalism, Showtime’s cannibal dramedy Yellowjackets imagines just how scary teen girls could become if they were left alone à la Lord of the Flies. Flitting between 1996 and now with two strong ensemble casts, all of these women are strong competitors for the title of “scariest character”: Natalie, played by Sophie Thatcher in the ’90s and Juliette Lewis in the present, is an archetypal slutty bad girl with a rough home life and the knowledge to wield a gun. In the present, the signs of her trauma run through her adult self. Lottie, played by Courtney Eaton, experiences visions and premonitions that undo the group and make her unreliable. Taissa, played by Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown, appears to still have night terrors that make her a danger. It’s Misty, though, who is the clear winner.
Played by Sammi Hanratty in ’96 and Christina Ricci in the present, Misty is a mouse with a serial killer’s temperament lurking beneath blonde curls. With big, ’90s glasses even in the present and a tiny, five-foot frame, she doesn’t seem capable of very much damage. It’s there that her real power lies. In the group, she’s an outsider, mocked for being a nerd. But in the woods, the same things that make her a weirdo make her necessary. She knows how to navigate, how to heal wounds, how to get food. A first sign that she might not be quite right comes when she hacks off someone’s leg and burns the wound closed without flinching, even as they scream. She has to save a life, and she will do anything.
She has skills — lots of them — and when she overhears her teammates confessing that they couldn’t do it without her, she does what anyone would do and takes action to ensure they can’t be found. She wants to stay out there forever, consequences (and there are many of them) be damned.
“I think what she wants is to return to a time when she was valued, accepted, and had some social currency,” Ricci said of her character in a recent interview. “Because, in our culture, a woman like this really doesn’t have any! When they were stranded, I think that was probably the greatest time of her life. So she’s just sort of biding her time, waiting for something like that to happen again for her.” That desperation to be needed again runs like a raw electrical wire through adult Misty.
In the present, Misty appears to have it all together — working as a nurse, the only thing she’s lacking is the friendship and respect that she craves. Her loneliness is dangerous, and given the chance to team up with the other survivors and find out who has been blackmailing them, she leaps to not only help but to surveil her “friends.” If Misty is so scary in 1996, with only the knowledge available in books at her fingertips, it’s terrifying to think how much power she has in 2021 with the full force of the internet. We see some of that power: drugging, body disposal, stalking. When Natalie asks for her help with something very illegal and tells her, “You’re just really good at things,” Misty’s incapable of saying no. She seems to resent the Yellowjackets for never fully accepting her, while knowing she would go to any end to get close to them.
Of course, not one of the Yellowjackets is squeaky clean, and in both 1996 and the present they maintain an aura of uncertainty that carries the show as we work to understand who is to “blame” for certain aspects of the trip’s downfall and their survival — what it took to live and what the crash took away from them. It would be so boring if any one of them were an easy victim, without a tarnished track record in both the past and present.
Everyone has a role to play in everything going as deeply, darkly south as it did. But Misty, and Ricci’s portrayal of her, is uniquely chilling. Ricci dominated the ’90s with a dry, brutal wit and darkness, as exemplified in a more PG way by her turn as Wednesday Addams. As an adult actor, she gravitated toward darker, more difficult characters like those in Buffalo ’66, Prozac Nation, and Black Snake Moan. Yellowjackets, then, seems built for the intersection of her skills, graduating her to an expressive, terrifying performance that defies easy tropes. Misty’s fear factor, and Ricci’s skill in playing someone so complicated, is part of what makes the show so compelling.
Also, sue me, I kinda love Misty a bit. We all just want to be loved — so what if she goes a slightly different way about it?