This BBC Miniseries Is One of 2023’s Wildest Thrillers


The Big Picture

  • Wolf is a dark, twisted, and grizzly psychological thriller that captures the unique brand of British gallows humor.
  • The show pays homage to classic horror films like Funny Games and incorporates elements of home invasion, slasher, and occult cult mysteries.
  • Wolf strikes a balance between brutality and lightheartedness, with sinister villains who bring a whimsically dark sense of humor to the story.

Dark comedy, or comedy-horror, is one of British television’s strong points. Misfits, Snuff Box, Jam, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace … there are many a gem to have crawled out of the twisted and brilliant minds behind British late-night TV that make audiences question whether they should be appalled or enthralled by the Island’s unique brand of gallows humor. It’s no surprise then, that 2023 brought us a grizzly psychological thriller in the form of Wolf: a shining example of that quintessentially British tone that falls between horrifying and hilarious. Created by Megan Gallagher (Seizure, Borderliner) and adapted from the novel of the same name by author Mo Hayder, Wolf touts an impressive cast that includes both Iwan Rheon and Owen Teale of Game of Thrones fame. If you’re looking for a darkly humorous, twisted, and grizzly thriller that coats itself in constant homages to classic horror, Wolf is likely right up your alley. The only problem is that, so far, it’s only been made available on the BBC’s iPlayer and on Max in select countries in Europe, so its availability remains limited.

Still, our British and European readers who are fans of the genre may want to make sure they don’t miss this one. The central plot for this wild ride will seem familiar to fans of horror: A snooty, upper-middle-class family consisting of a mother, a father, a daughter, and a fluffy white dog return to their ludicrously huge home in the quaint countryside of Wales so that the father can recover from a heart transplant. The family brushes off the obvious warning signs of impending doom with a comically calm air of the British saying “Keep calm and carry on.” The warning signs are there — guts and gore strung up in the trees of their garden in a ghoulish ritualistic display. As is foreshadowed, the family eventually suffers a home invasion and is taken hostage by two sadistic strangers who, it seems, merely want to torment them for some jolly ‘ole fun. “We want to make you scared,” the men say in response to the mother’s desperate pleas for an explanation. If this is ringing any bells, it’s because Wolf shares a very similar setup to an absolute cult classic of 90s horror: Michael Haneke‘s 1997 home-invasion horror film Funny Games and its American remake of the same name. Wolf wears this inspiration quite proudly on its sleeve though, as Haneke’s torture-filled thriller is not the only genre film that Wolf homages in its six-episode runtime.

‘Wolf’ Is a Great Blend of Horror and Comedy

Image from IMDb

The two strangers, who give the clearly false names of Molina and Honey, provide the brutality of Funny Games‘ home invaders, as actors Sacha Dhawan and Iwan Rheon terrorize and torture their victims in a similarly gleeful, almost childlike manner. Their nefarious intentions contrast against a friendly, quintessentially British demeanor in a way that is both disturbing and amusing for the audience. (If you have a twisted enough sense of humor, that is.) It will be no surprise to hear that Rheon, the actor who played Ramsay Bolton for four seasons of Game of Thrones, yet again masterfully plays the role of a menacing sadist much like the torturer of Dreadfort — so much so that one might worry that this marvelous actor is at risk of being type-cast. This quickly ceases to be a concern though, as both Honey and Molina bring a whimsically dark sense of humor to this whole tale, setting Rheon’s performance apart from the more Stoic Ramsay Bolton. Yes, on the one hand, they are torturing innocent civilians (apparently) for fun, but their consistent schoolboy banter and aloof demeanor make the scenario somehow comical despite the carnage.

This contrast of lighthearted aloofness and brutal sadism is especially apparent as Honey dramatically lip-syncs along to the classical Opera “The Barber of Seville,” all the while torturing a family member with bondage and a blade in what feels like a homage to the dance of Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. The strangers become increasingly comical as the show progresses and more of the unexpected twists are revealed as well, slowly but surely devolving them from a terrifying threat akin to A Clockwork Orange‘s gang of Droogs towards Home Alone‘s snickering, bickering duo of incompetent and dimwitted Wet Bandits. It’s all in good fun though, as the tone is quite well established to be grim-dark but comical from the get-go.


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‘Wolf’ Is a Constant Stream of Horror Homages

The young Anchor-Ferrer in Wolf
Image via BBC

The story of Honey and Molina and their jolly home invasion is but one cut of Wolf’s multi-layered pie of genre-mixing and plot twists. As the audience is immersed in a dark, gothic image of Britain, where cities are plagued by unspeakable acts of senseless violence and the countryside hides the same evil under a fake facade of quaint village life, the show takes every opportunity it can to tie a new ribbon to its totem pole of horror tropes. Before the halfway point of this ride is even reached, a techno-dancing slasher known as the Donkey Pitch Killer is introduced, toting a gas mask, a hazmat suit, and a taste for disemboweling teenagers that will remind viewers of the classic splatter fest horror My Bloody Valentine. Not long after that, we’re introduced to a sinister cult built upon the foundations of rave culture, drugs, and the use of horror movies to plan grizzly pranks and gory enactments in the name of macabre theater. Alongside the cult, the slasher, and the home invaders, there’s also a subplot of a child abductor that has tormented the show’s leading man for years with a ghoulish, almost supernatural presence, whose long hair and shadowy aura will remind many of Twin Peaksiconic killer known as Bob.

All these different shades of horror tropes are connected together by the show’s main protagonist: Detective Inspector Jack Caffery, who is thrown in the middle of a murder mystery after finding a fluffy white dog with a broken ankle and nothing but a foreboding note attached to its collar, reading “Help us.” This is where the showrunner Megan Gallagher and her previous work shines through, as Wolf‘s many different subplots and scares tie together in a spiraling murder investigation led by lead actor Uweki Roach‘s brooding detective. As Jack tries to discover the true identity of the Donkey Pitch Killer whilst simultaneously looking for evidence that will allow him to arrest the predator that has haunted his dreams since childhood, he fights against the clock to locate Honey and Molina’s home-invasion victims as well. The plot feels both chaotic and cathartic up until the final moments of the last episode, but despite regularly threatening to become too convoluted to follow or even care about, the various threads of Wolf come together in the end, as long as suspension of disbelief is permitted.

The Silly Undertones Give ‘Wolf’ a Lighthearted Touch

The Protagonist of Wolf DI Caffery, played by Ukweli Roach
Image from

Suspending disbelief won’t be difficult though, as the show establishes itself to be quite surreal or, as viewers of the show who didn’t enjoy the tone would say, unrealistic. The various wild subplots that owe their inspiration to a lot of yesteryears’ more pulpy, grindhouse-like horrors firmly establish that we shouldn’t expect a self-serious, realistic British police procedural in the vein of Broadchurch. No, this is a wacky type of whodunit, where it’s less about being immersed in the tantalizing work of a detective and more about falling down a rabbit hole only conceivable through a detective’s wildest fever dreams after they binge-watched a box set of horror classics.

Another string to this surrealist bow is the collection of firm winks at the surreal murder mystery classic Twin Peaks. Besides the aforementioned creepy child killer who seems as if Twin Peaks’ Bob relocated to London, our protagonist uses a trance-like dream state to tie the threads of his case together in what reminds of a combination of Sherlock’s mind temple and the dreams of Twin Peaks’ Detective Cooper. There’s also the general theme of occult horrors hiding in contrasting, lighthearted places, which again aligns spiritually with Lynch’s critically acclaimed series. Last but not least in the show’s Lynchian sensibilities is a collection of scenes that contrast ultraviolence with lighthearted songs and dances (no more can be said due to spoilers.)

Ultimately, Wolf is a wild show that never lets the viewer get comfortable, as it moves between twists and tropes at a breakneck pace. It’s not recommendable to watch Wolf with any clear expectations or a specific genre in mind, as what initially feels like a classic home-invasion thriller turns into a police procedural mixed with slasher horror and a fine dose of a Wicker Man-like cult mystery sprinkled in to boot. All the viewer can rely on is a sick sense of humor throughout, electric performances from the show’s sinister villains, and the guarantee of a complex whodunit murder mystery that comes together in the end, albeit in a not-so-unexpected way that isn’t exactly grounded in reality. For the fun twists, grizzly tension, and homages to classic horror that feel more like a love letter than a rip-off, it’s definitely worth checking out Wolf now … assuming you’re able to!

Wolf is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the U.K., and is available on Max in select European countries.


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