Wolf review: A propulsive, twisty thriller with serious bite
The twists and turns keep coming in this genre-bending series which isn't afraid to go to some seriously dark places.
There's always a risk with a show like Wolf that its structure is to its detriment.
Like Inside Man before it - which also comes from production company Hartswood Films, for which Steven Moffat is creative director - Wolf follows two distinct storylines which only come together fully at the season's climax, which is a tricky narrative tightrope to walk.
For one thing, there's always going to be one storyline which is more engaging than the other - for Inside Man, it was the David Tennant/Dolly Wells storyline, while here it is the Sacha Dhawan/Iwan Rheon storyline.
However, the reason Wolf works so well - and it does, it works really well - is that you never spend time longing to go back to your preferred storyline. Both are miraculously tense, engaging and propulsive, with the series managing to meld the two expertly to feel like a complete narrative.
The two storylines are as such - one follows Jack Caffery, a young police detective played by Ukweli Roach who is haunted by his brother's disappearance when they were children, and his inability to pin anything on the neighbour he is certain is responsible.
Alongside this, he also gets wrapped up investigating a case believed to have been solved five years ago - a shocking and gruesome double murder.
Meanwhile, the other storyline follows the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers family, who find themselves trapped in their own isolated home and tormented by two men whose motives are unclear. What we do know is that they're on a job, and seemingly nothing will stop them from pursuing their twisted mind games and their ultimate end.
The series is based on the Jack Caffery novels by Mo Hayder, taking its title and central storyline from the last book in the series. Here's hoping the BBC and Hartswood are planning to go back and adapt previous instalments next, because this has the potential to be a returning thriller franchise that really pops.
One of the reasons is front and centre, and that's Ukweli Roach. He may not be the biggest name in the absolutely stacked cast, but his performance is phenomenal, enigmatic and dripping with charisma.
His Jack is the reason the split storylines work, as he ensures that his scenes remain as vital and as compelling as the more heightened B story, by the sheer force of his personality.
That is, of course, not to say that the writing isn't top drawer. Everything here is razor sharp, from the plotting to the dialogue to the cutting together of timelines and the character work on display.
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As in any thriller worth its salt, the series features twists and turns galore, keeping you guessing and delivering some almighty cliffhangers. Even when a twist isn't the most surprising, the way in which the series reveals each of them is sublime, taking its time and building to a crescendo but never over-indulging in its payoffs.
Then, there's the tone, perhaps the most singular element of the series. To say something is genre-bending nowadays isn't a particularly unique trait - so many series and films dabble in melding sci-fi with mystery or horror with comedy or any other concoction of genres.
However, the distinctive feel to this six-part series really does feel like an achievement. The tension is palpable throughout, leaning heavily into the show's thriller roots, while it obviously also plays into the procedural, detective realm.
Then there are the show's horror aspects, which are on full show in the production design and costuming. There's an element of gore which isn't overwhelming but which is present throughout, even in the quick, effectively eerie titles.
Meanwhile, the design of the Hazmat Men is particularly chilling. Moffat may not be directly involved here, but his influence certainly is. If anyone knows the disturbing visual power of a gas mask, it's him.
But perhaps the most impressive thing is that this horror element isn't offset in any way by the show's comedic sensibilities, despite their effectiveness in their own light. The series straddles the light and dark with ease, particularly in the sequences centred on Sacha Dhawan's Honey and Iwan Rheon's Molina.
Quipping villains are a staple of cinema and TV, but they have also become something of a one-note trope. Honey and Molina could easily have fallen into this trap, becoming diet versions of The Joker or The Master (and Dhawan's casting only added to this concern).
However, there's a lightness of touch and a realism to the characters and their more comedic flourishes. They both have their more theatrical moments, but they're individually fleshed out across the six episodes and are, like all of the characters here, three-dimensional and empathetic, even at their worst.
This is in no small part down to the stellar work of the ensemble that has been brought together here. Dhawan and Rheon are stand-outs, juggling the ridiculous and the menacing with apparent ease, but Owen Teale, Juliet Stevenson, Annes Elwy and Sian Reese-Williams are all captivating in their own right, impressively modulating their performances as the tone of the show itself shifts and changes.
The one area in which the show somewhat falls down is, unfortunately, in its conclusion. The overall ending is relatively satisfying and the final episode has some truly stand-out moments, but once the two storylines do finally converge the result does feel somewhat rushed and incomplete.
It doesn't knock the whole run off course or leave a sour taste in the mouth, but in a show which has been so excellently paced throughout, it is noticeable when things suddenly and jarringly kick into an unwelcome overdrive.
Regardless, for the most part this an exceptionally assured first outing for a series which has the potential to run and run, should the stories remain this engaging and structured with this much innovation.
Detective dramas are two a penny right now and have been for some time - in theory, the idea of continuing Jack Caffery's investigations in further instalments should be off-putting.
But this is a detective series in as much as it's a horror or a comedy. In truth, it is not quite any of them; it's something which instead feels new, exciting and bold, as addictive as anything you'll find on TV right now, and unafraid to be both delightfully dark and terrifically fun.
Wolf will be released on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from 9pm on Monday 31st July.