Wolf Pack review – Sarah Michelle Gellar’s TV comeback is mind-bendingly bad

This startlingly awful teen werewolf drama is a cheesy, trope-packed mess. It’s full of dodgy acting, nonsensical dialogue and inexplicable plot – this is no Buffy …

Wildfires in California are just the sort of peace-shattering, visually intimidating force of nature that dramas like to use as a starting point. What happens to the people who share the terrifying experience of being surrounded by walls of flame? How do families cope when everything they own is incinerated? The startlingly awful new fantasy drama Wolf Pack (Paramount+) asks a bigger, deeper question. You see that big fire? Well, what if there was a werewolf in it?

After a fleeting introductory scene in which a park ranger sees a fire, stops his vehicle, gets out and stands square-chested in the road, looking with grizzled apprehension at the flames, we are aboard a yellow school bus in Los Angeles. It should be taking Everett (Armani Jackson) to his classes but is snarled in traffic, with the wildfire raging in the Angeles National Forest not 50 yards away.

Wolf Pack’s gift for mangled, nonsensical dialogue and inexplicable character motivations kicks in immediately, as Everett’s classmates struggle to work out why they are stranded (it’s the fire, lads) or why nearby motorists are abandoning their cars (again, probably the fire). When panicked deer and horses stampede towards the road, that’s the moment when everyone decides to disembark from the bus. Numerous kids pay for this eccentric choice with their lives but Everett avoids a fatal hoofing because he is briefly abducted by a half-seen prowling monster and lands back in the carnage with a bite mark on his shoulder.

Armani Jackson as Everett Lang.
Chomping at the bit … Armani Jackson as Everett Lang. Photograph: Steve Dietl/MTV Entertainment Inc

Spiky loner Blake (Bella Shepard) – who doesn’t have a smartphone or email address, which tells us immediately how contrary and kooky she is – picks up the same mystery injury. She and Everett are now bound by trauma and destiny: soon he has grown abs, her spots have cleared up and they’ve both acquired the heavily contoured makeup of teen screen beasts. Awoo!

Somewhere not far away are siblings Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Gray) and Luna (Chloe Rose Robertson). Harlan is vain, horny, square-jawed and given to eye-rolling petulance, which in a show like this can only mean one thing: he’s gay. Luna, meanwhile, is just vaguely fretful and damaged, especially when their park-ranger dad (“He’s not our real father!” says Harlan, expositionally) fails to return home. When Harlan and Luna start experiencing the strange sensations that are bewildering Everett and Blake, a lycanthropic quartet is about to form.

The teens have found their pack. They are – as young adults in zombie, werewolf, vampire or alien stories tend to be – no longer just overlooked outsiders: their new purpose will provide an escape from the domestic lives in which they’ve never felt at home. For Everett that’s a pair of overbearing, worrywart parents; for Blake it’s an intensely generic difficult upbringing, featuring a single dad fecklessly battling to stay afloat and a younger brother with autism who brings out Blake’s caring side.

Episode one just about gets through this set-up without disintegrating but the story barely moves on during a mind-bendingly bad second instalment. Horror tropes are randomly piled up on top of each other, from reflections that differ disturbingly from the person gazing into the mirror, to threatening phone calls in the style of Scream or Ring (the stalker on the other end seems also to be able to communicate telepathically, which makes his intermittent use of landlines doubly confusing).

Smouldering inanity … Tyler Gray and Chloe Robertson in Wolf Pack.
Smouldering inanity … Tyler Gray and Chloe Robertson in Wolf Pack. Photograph: Steve Dietl/MTV Entertainment Inc

Flashbacks, fantasies, shared visions and sudden paralysing headaches keep needlessly confirming that there is something odd about these kids. A shadowy figure lurks behind every window, further spooking characters who have often just woken up from an extended dream sequence. Cheesy slow-motion, cheesy fast-motion montages, super-cheesy match cuts and at least one twanging continuity error: it’s all going on.

And the acting! They’re aiming for a sort of gritted foreboding, full of meaningful stares and fraught pauses. But they all come across as if they’re not sure whose line is next.

Into this dank mess strides the big name on the poster: Sarah Michelle Gellar, once Buffy the Vampire Slayer, now making a bafflingly low-key comeback as empathic arson investigator Kristin Ramsey. Her insistence on a handshake when she meets the kids is shot in a way that makes it look supernaturally significant, but she sparks a regular whodunnit subplot by finding evidence that the fire was caused by an arsonist on the school bus. Can either or both of those possibly make sense? By the time we know, your interest will have long since cooled: Wolf Pack is a howler.


Jack Seale

The GuardianTramp

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