Jacob (George MacKay) arrives at a mental hospital that specialises in patients with "species dysphoria" - people who believe that they are not humans, but animals. As Jacob struggles with keeping his wolf inside and battles the hospital's head doctor (Paddy Considine), he meets various other patients and is drawn to Cecile (Lily-Rose Depp), who believes herself to be a wildcat.
Stories about repression and injustice against LGBT people are very often weighted on finding an understanding with the audience. Previously, the trope of burying your gays with movies like 'Philadelphia' was made to cast LGBT people as tragic figures. Luckily, we've moved and representation and acceptance are more widespread, which makes a movie like 'Wolf' all the more surprising for how it handles a thinly-veiled story about transness and the brutality of so-called "conversion therapy".
Throughout 'Wolf', the movie crisscrosses tones far too many times for any of it to have any kind of conviction. In a number of scenes, it comes across like it's deliberately making fun of the characters and highlighting the "strangeness" of it all. Lola Petticrew's character, for example, believes she's a parrot and - wouldn't you know it - parrots everything she hears. Another character believes she's a horse and neighs and chews hay. Undoubtedly, George MacKay's performance is the highlight of 'Wolf' and is by far the most convincing out of all the actors assembled. It's committed fully, never once letting anything close to self-consciousness enter into it. When the story shifts to his character prowling around at night, it makes for some dark and unsettling viewing, from which you get the sense that 'Wolf' is a movie battling against its own urges.
It could have easily been positioned as a psychological horror, with George MacKay's character warring against both Paddy Considine's violent overseer and his very self, yet it tries to crowbar in a romance with Lily-Rose Depp's character that ultimately ends up being a waste of time. Even with a better performance from a more skilled actor than her, it still wouldn't have made any sense and would likely have been even more needless. Fionn O'Shea and Lola Petticrew both have little input to the story, simply populating the background here and there but never quite having the same level of seriousness that MacKay possesses, except for a brutal scene towards the end where Fionn O'Shea runs afoul of Paddy Considine. It's not to their fault either, but rather than writer/director Nathalie Biancheri has put them in an impossible position where they have to be something akin to comedic relief in a movie that can't really bear it. You only need to look at 'Dating Amber' to know that they're both capable talents, but here they're placed at odds with the story and left out to dry by it.
Again, this is what makes 'Wolf' a frustrating experience. It's all so uneven and thinly plotted that it relies on atmosphere and performance to fill in the empty space where the movie should be. Indeed, there's a dullness to it all that makes it generally unappealing visually, even if it's meant to reinforce how grey and unfeeling the hospital is. Beyond George MacKay's full-on efforts, there's very little in 'Wolf' that stands out as remarkable and despite its arthouse trappings, it lacks depth and consideration of its themes and topics.