Wolf Pack

Wolf Pack

2023 - United States

It's a horror film told over nearly eight hours

Wolf Pack review by Daniel Tessier

Wolf Pack is a glossy, graphic and often gruesome teen horror series very loosely based on the book series by prolific Canadian horror and fantasy author Edo van Belkom, the first book of which was published back in 2004. Showrunner Jeff Davis was previously know for creating the highly successful Criminal Minds, followed by 2011-17 teen drama Teen Wolf, and so Wolf Pack would seem to be the perfect series for him: combining teen angst, police investigation and werewolves in one pretty package.

Given that Teen Wolf was based on the movie from 1985, it's clear that Davis has the knack for taking older properties and reworking them for a young, modern audience. Wolf Pack, created by Paramount's MTV Entertainment division for streaming on Paramount Plus, utilised the same production facilities and much of the same crew as Teen Wolf, but the series are both entirely separate; they just happen to both be about, well, teen wolves.

Wolf Pack tv series

Much of the publicity for Wolf Pack focused on the big name casting: Sarah Michelle Gellar, still best known for her starring role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer that ended twenty years ago. Gellar had to be persuaded to take part in the series; the actress had wound down her live action work in recent years, and initially dismissed the script with a “Been there, done that.”

Davis persisted, though, having long been a vocal fan of Buffy and repeatedly cited it as a major influence on Teen Wolf. Gellar eventually agreed to join the cast, also acting as executive producer, at least partly, it seems, so that she could ensure a safe environment for the younger cast members, something that she had often found wasn't the case on sets in her youth.

This is how I, as a thirty-nine-year-old, come to watch a series that is clearly aimed at people half my age. This does raise the question of why so much focus was put on the Gellar's involvement in the series, with potential viewers clearly expected to relate it to Buffy, when most of the target audience weren't yet born when Buffy finished. You might expect more limelight on the four young would-be stars, who are the main focus of the story, especially as there was a clear aim of getting as attractive and physically perfect a cast as possible without actually building them in a lab.

Wolf Pack

Central to the story are Everett, a teenager plagued by anxiety, played by Armani Jackson (Chad, Grey's Anatomy); and Blake, a troubled and rebellious teen who seems hellbent on alienating everyone around her, played by Bella Shepard (Two Sides, A Girl Named Jo). They're saddled with some painful dialogue but do pretty well in giving the characters more depth than they're written with.

Wolf Pack

Everett and Blake are both on a school bus when a devastating forest fire breaks out in their Californian home town, something which provides an ongoing threat as it rages throughout the series and makes the show very topical, what with such fires getting worse year-on-year as the climate becomes hotter and drier there. In a spectacular opening, dozens of desperate animals stampede the road as they try to escape from the fire, an event which would be terrifying enough in itself if there wasn't a werewolf amongst them. Naturally, both Everett and Blake get scratched and find themselves transforming into something new.

Wolf Pack

Also living in this town are two pureblood werewolves, born with the curse rather than turned. Chloe Rose Robertson and Tyler Lawrence Gray appear in their first major roles as twins Luna and Harlan. Neither actor does much but look pretty, but then they're quite shallow characters. Luna is more sympathetic, while Harlan is something of a stereotypical randy jock, albeit a gay one, which makes for something different. This is a series that isn't afraid to show plenty of sex and skin as well as blood and violence, right to the limit of what a young adult series can get away with.

Wolf Pack

In terms of style and visuals, this is far more like a mid-budget horror film than a drama series; unfortunately, it's a horror film told over nearly eight hours. This is a very popular format lately, thanks to Stranger Things and its many pretenders, but one that takes skill to pull off. Wolf Pack, in spite of some thrilling set pieces and some inspired direction, is also a slow-burner, and it struggles to maintain interest at some key points of the story.

Werewolves are a tried-and-tested monster, and like vampires, zombies and ghosts come with helpfully well-established lore. Unfortunately, this means they also very easily become cliched and uninspiring. Wolf Pack gives its wolves more originality than most. Each of the wolves has a different ability, with Everett gaining super-strength, Blake enhanced speed, and Harlan and Luna enhanced senses of hearing and smell respectively. This does make it a bit like a supernatural Avengers team, even more so with much of the first few episodes given over to Everett and Blake's origin story. They even get a sexiness upgrade, with their physiques becoming more toned and their skin clearing up (because they were such uggos beforehand, obviously).

Wolf Pack

The show builds its own lore, linking the wolves to fire rather than the traditional full moon, and stressing the importance of the pack. There's are mysteries to unravel as well. Gellar's character, Ramsey, is an arson investigator with the fire department, working with the police to find out who started the horrific wildfire. Ramsey could be a great character, an empathetic and assured woman with secrets of her own, but Gellar seems bored playing her. Still, she's far more likeable than the police themselves, who are portrayed almost without exception as corrupt bullies willing to pin the crime on anyone. The deeper mystery, however, is the identity of the wolf that infected Everett and Blake (again, an ability only this one wolf seems to have), and why it's started hunting the people of the town again.

In spite of the excellent visual effects and design work on the series, it's an inescapable truth that no one has ever managed to make a werewolf costume that doesn't look at least a bit ridiculous. Fortunately, the directors keep the monster in the shadows as much as possible, massively improving its effectiveness and ramping up the tension.

Wolf Pack

The series has a diverse cast of characters, with leads of various ethnicities and sexualities, and a commendable focus on mental health and neurodiversity. Everett may get mocked for his anxiety, but it's portrayed with understanding and sympathy, and when other characters do actually listen to him, they come away understanding more about his experiences and their own. Blake has a younger brother who is autistic and largely non-verbal, played with some skill by Nevada Jose. The expanded cast of teens are more obvious, cliched characters, like the obligatory popular rich bitch and the handsome but obnoxiously cocky boy.

While there are plenty of positives, there's something lacking in Wolf Pack. While it becomes more gripping once it gets going, it's sluggish to start and it's hard to fully invest in the characters or the mystery. Maybe it's because I'm twenty years too old, but while it was entertaining enough, I found it hard to care. Still, at least it's all very pretty.

Published on May 31st, 2023. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.

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