'It’s a cautionary tale': Wilderness director So Yong Kim on violent fantasies and revenge

The Korean-American filmmaker says the script gripped her on a 'personal level'

Ashley Benson as Cara, left, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Will Taylor in Wilderness. AP
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When director So Yong Kim was seven months pregnant with her first child, she found herself have the same disturbing nightmare over and over again. “I would fantasise about killing my husband,” Kim tells The National over Zoom.

“There was this hormonal surge in my body where I really just wanted to run him over with a car or I was dragging his dead body through the house.”

Thankfully for Kim and her husband, she admitted to him that she had been having these nightmares, talked through them with him, and they finally went away. However, when the scripts for the opening two episodes of Wilderness landed in Kim’s lap, she was instantly reminded of her dreams.

“It was such a great and thrilling ride. I read them back-to-back in one sitting and loved them. Most importantly of all, though, they gripped me on a very personal level. I knew what the character of Liv was going through.”

Wilderness director So Yong Kim. Photo: Amazon Studios

Based on B E Jones’s novel of the same name, the six-episode long series revolves around young British couple Liv (Jenna Coleman) and Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who have just moved to New York City for his job. When Liv discovers that Will has cheated on her with his co-worker Cara (Ashley Benson), he begs for forgiveness – something that she seemingly grants when he pays for a road trip across the west coast of America.

However, when Liv discovers that the affair was much deeper than Will ever admitted, she starts to plot his accidental death while on the vacation. But the sudden appearance of Cara and her boyfriend Garth (Eric Balfour), who has no idea about the affair, soon complicates the matter.

In preparation for making Wilderness, Kim focused on recent thrillers such as Gone Girl and Promising Young Woman, while she also wanted to use the “emotionality” of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and the “constantly changing relationship dynamics” of Revolutionary Road. While there were plenty of movies that Kim used as reference points, she doesn’t believe there are any specific thriller television shows to compare it to. “It’s very unique,” she insists.

As well as her own intimate connection with the material, Kim was immediately fascinated by Wilderness because of how it explored the rage that’s burning inside Liv. “Female rage is such a stereotype,” explains Kim. “We’re often told that audiences don’t want to see a woman screaming and acting hysterically. But there are certain reasons why that rage surfaces. In a couple’s relationship there’s always the other side of the story. That’s what I wanted to explore.”

Of course, Kim is not encouraging people to act out their thoughts of violence. Instead, she wants viewers to “live vicariously” through Liv’s choices, and use her experience as a warning.

The show stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Will and Jenna Coleman as Liv, a couple on the verge of a violent breakdown. AP

“She’s a complicated and complex character. Everybody can have this sense or urge to do something like [this]. They say, ‘I can kill that person because I’m so angry!’ But they don’t go out and do it. Living vicariously through Liv’s choices. The consequences, the damage it does to your psyche, that emotional journey was very interesting to me. It’s very intense. But I enjoyed seeing the character go through it.”

Kim was helped on this path by her collaborations with Coleman, who audiences will primarily remember from her roles in Doctor Who, Victoria, The Serpent and The Sandman. “She’s incredible. We talked about grounding the character and we built up such a great trust and honesty between us. I did so with Oliver, too. I feel like I have been forever spoiled with this project. It was such a rare privilege to work with such amazing talent.”

What made the experience even more special is that Kim, Coleman, Jackson-Cohen, and the rest of the crew actually got to travel to the exotic and spell-binding locations in the script. Even though, at first it was suggested that they would just use green-screen to recreate the likes of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park.

“In the beginning there was some talk about the Grand Canyon being projected or that we would use a stage or special effects. Everyone was like, ‘We have to go there. It's once in a lifetime opportunity.’ It took a lot of effort, but it was worth it. Using the actual locations brought so much emotion to the scenes.”

Ultimately, Kim hopes that all of this work will only make Wilderness more impactful. “I’m hoping that by the end of the journey the audience realises that relationships are complicated. It’s not a black-and-white situation with any character. I want them to have a certain amount of empathy for everyone. It’s a cautionary tale in many ways.”

All six episodes of Wilderness are now available to watch on Prime Video

Updated: September 16, 2023, 2:02 PM