Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Amazon's new YA series The Wilds.
Amazon's new YA teen drama hits the streamer this weekend and it's a wild ride. The series centres around a group of teenage girls who end up stranded on a deserted island and are forced to survive on their own. But there's a big twist, this was no accident; these girls were put on this island for a reason. While The Wilds isn't based on any existing property, it is clearly shaped by — and in some instances, in opposition to — a few choice classics, including a book, a cult film, prestige TV, and even some of your reality TV shows.
The Lord of the Flies
Let's start with the obvious: on paper, The Wilds looks like a gender-swapped Lord of the Flies. William Golding's novel (and later, multiple film adaptations) centers on a group of young boys stranded on a deserted island who eventually succumb to savagery and kill one of their number. It's a novel shaped by Golding's own racism and perceptions of how he believed people of colour to behave that nevertheless became a lauded parable for the inevitable evil of humans.
Aside from the setup of the girls on the island, The Wilds does its best to subvert and challenge the problematic tropes established by Lord of the Flies. Here, white women are in the minority, immediately contradicting the colonial nature of Golding's story. The girls here are not only empathetically drawn, but are treated empathetically by the creative team. This isn't a story about despair or imagined savagery — unless it's the savagery society enacts on teenage girls. Instead, this is a story about trauma and healing, recovery and accountability, reconciliation and hope, even in the face of disaster. It's an incredibly interesting contradiction of a cultural touchstone that seems so key to the project, but it's one that always works in The Wilds' favour even if the show sometimes loses its way.
Once you get deeper into the meat of the show — basically, as soon as you hit the final moments of the first episode — this connection becomes far clearer. While The Wilds answers its core mystery much earlier than Lost and in a far more definitive way, the classic prestige TV series' influence can still be heavily felt. Not only do the shows share an obvious conceit — a group of people try to survive while stranded on an island after a plane crash — but they also both extensively use flashbacks to tell the story of what happened to our characters before the island. In fact, it's clear that The Wilds team were seriously impressed with how that worked for Lost as they built it in as a core part of each instalment in the ten episode series.
There's also the fact that the truth about the islands in both Lost and The Wilds is far from what it first seems. The Wilds' strange underground bunkers where some of the girls are interviewed during the episodic framing devices look a lot like the famed bunker that features in Lost. Though the mystery of Lost was far more enigmatic, the concept of being watched and the question of whether or not the inhabitants were being controlled was a huge part of the paranoia that plagued the island. And in The Wilds, that fear is made real by the shadowy organisation using the girls and their plight for their own nefarious means.
Survivor, Naked and Afraid, Alone, & Reality Shows In General
Though it might not seem like obvious prestige teen drama inspo-fodder, the way that The Wilds uses reality TV both narratively and as framing devices makes a lot of sense considering how much of our understanding of desert island survival stories are based off of the genre. Let's begin with the fact that the girls are essentially living in a reality TV show even if they don't know it. It's set on an island covered with cameras and scouted to give them enough water and food to potentially survive. They also get help from unseen producers who deliver things that they need.
The Wilds even takes from a classic reality TV trope as there is a mole on the island who is in communication with the "producers" the entire time. There are regular tasks to fulfil and "milestones" the group has to hit, which will be recognisable to anyone who's watched Survivor or Bear Grylls. Foraging, building shelters, starting fires, and even catching fish, these girls are put through their paces as islanders — for the entertainment and satisfaction of the project leaders and their investors — just like competitors on these shows. And if that's not enough, there are multiple moments of talking head-style monologues, thanks to the framing device used for the series. This is all compounded by the fact that one of the girls is a keen watcher of survival reality TV shows, creating a nice meta-text as she tries to share her wilderness knowledge from the shows that influenced The Wilds with the group.
This cult Japanese novel and the movie that it spawned is all over the last decade plus of YA dystopian storytelling. While it's more obvious in something like The Hunger Games, the shadow of this story about a group of school kids selected by the government and made to kill each other still hangs heavy over The Wilds. Just like Battle Royale, The Wilds is a social commentary and just like the brutal Japanese satire it's an examination of teenage-hood, growing up, and what it takes to survive both life in the real world and life on the island. And while the girls are not being forced to kill each other, they are definitely being manipulated by the adults — who are supposed to protect them — for their own gains.
Battle Royale was written as a response to the demonisation of teenagers as well as fears of rising crime rates and overpopulation. The Wilds is a reaction to a patriarchal world and a rising revolution; although just like Battle Royale, those who are claiming to make the decisions to change the world for the better are doing it at the expense of the young lives they use. Also on a more base level, the high-tech camera setup and almost reality TV framing of the series also reflects the world of Battle Royale, where the kids' fight for their lives was televised. Despite the fact that the project is secret here, we still regularly take part in a similar sort of voyeurism watching the girls through the eyes and cameras of the people who put them on the island.
Though that movie might be about a man on an island alone, The Wilds does take one vital part of Cast Away lore and translate it for its teenage survivors. In the 2000 movie, Tom Hanks plays a man stranded on a desert island with only a volleyball for company. He draws a face on it using his own blood and names it Wilson. The ball became a part of some of the most important and emotional moments in the movie, grounding him to his humanity as he waited to be rescued. The Wilds adapts this with Marcus, the washed up plastic torso the girls find and take in as one of their own. He becomes boyfriend, brother, love interest, and friend. There are a lot of layers to what Marcus comes to mean to the group, but in a funny nod to Wilson they draw on Marcus' crotch with red lipstick — a cheeky stand-in for Wilson's bloody visage — and give him an, um, appendage he was sorely lacking before.