The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)
Written & Directed by Jim Cummings
I was overwhelmingly impressed with actor-writer-director Jim Cummings 2018 debut feature film, Thunder Road. He managed to find both humor and pathos in a character that easily could have slipped into caricature. In some ways, he has returned to that same character in The Wolf of Snow Hollow. He’s a police officer, sharing custody of a teenage daughter and tackling some deep-seated emotional issues. This is done through carefully tailored moments of humor & drama, all against the backdrop of a series of what appears to be killings at the hands of a werewolf.
John Marshall (Cummings) is a deputy in the snowy ski resort town of Snow Hollow. His dad (Robert Forster) is the ailing sheriff who is in denial of his worsening health. Officer Robson (Riki Lindholme) is the only woman on the force and all but ignored by the male-dominated staff despite being a hungry and talented investigator. Nothing much happens in Snow Hollow until one night when a couple renting a cottage outside of town encounters something terrifying. The body of one of them is discovered torn into pieces, and John is convinced it is a serial killer. The other officers think it looks like an animal, which immediately leads to speculation about a werewolf. As more victims are added to the list, John struggles to maintain his sanity while also dealing with a teenage daughter about to go off to college & try to keep his father from over-exerting himself on the job.
There is a brilliantly skilled balancing act happening throughout The Wolf of Snow Hollow that evokes another time in American cinema without feeling out-dated. Cummings finds a way to make his film consistently hilarious while incorporating authentic moments of horror and genuine character drama. It’s no surprise that one of his favorite movies is Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs because that is the type of film we’ve been presented with. John is a character who refuses to believe that something fantastic is happening in his quiet small town, the murders are bad enough, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to start believing in werewolves. In the form of the other deputies, the comedy relief characters quickly begin speculating about the monster, which draws comic frustration out of John.
Cummings never allows John to become an unnaturally heroic character and leans into the character’s flaws. When we first meet him, John is attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting held in the police station’s basement. The stress of his dad’s health, his daughter’s growing independence, and the murders drive John back to drinking, and we have to witness the cringing, humiliating fallout that comes with that. But, like I said, this is a balancing act, and Cummings still manages to find humor in these circumstances without mocking addiction or the weight of these murders. The comedy comes out of how panicked people get in times of extreme pressure and stress; the silly things we blurt out that sound serious to our ear but to other people are entirely ridiculous. Cummings allows John to become extremely unlikeable but never unsympathetic.
The visuals for The Wolf of Snow Hollow are amazing for low-budget indie horror. From the opening HD aerial drone shots of the snow mountains to the clever crossfades and editing, you can see how much more confident Cummings and his crew are in making this movie. He really uses the camera to tell the story in a way that a lot of big-budget studio pictures stumble to achieve. It’s clear Cummings loves film and shows his inspirations through his work. You can see shades of the Coen Brothers, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, etc. throughout the picture, and it never feels derivative or pandering. He adds a film to an already existing conversation rather than simply ape the things he likes.
This is a surprisingly short movie, clocking in at 84 minutes, and I think it might have actually benefitted from going a little longer, maybe another 20 minutes. Parts of the investigation feels rushed through, but Cummings never skimps on the character development. I think adding more time and letting us see pieces of the investigation outside of some very well-done montages might have been a boon to the film. Though, what we end up with is a very brilliant allegory about toxic masculinity and historical violence against women that is profoundly respectful but never becomes pedantic. When John suddenly makes the connection and shares his thoughts with Robson, her look tells us everything, regarding him with an expression that seems to say, “Yeah, it’s obvious to us that it sucks being a woman in this culture.”