The Wolf of Snow Hollow
When Officer John Marshall responds to a murder on the eve of a full moon in the sleepy mountain town of Snow Hollow, Marshall’s world is turned upside-down, as the pressure to catch the killer - thought by many to be a werewolf, including the townspeople and even some of his colleagues on the police force - mounts with each successive full moon, resulting in more dead bodies and terror among the locals. Marshall begins to hit the bottle - hard - as he struggles to balance his work life, caring for his sick father (the town’s chief of police), raising his teenage daughter, and trying his best to remind himself that werewolves don’t exist…
Triple-threat writer, director, actor Jim Cummings exploded onto the independent film scene in 2016 with his shot-in-one-take dark comedy/drama short film, Thunder Road, which won him the Grand Jury prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival, paving the way for a feature film adaptation of the same name, released two years later on a shoestring production budget of less than 200,000 US dollars. Now, for his sophomore feature directorial outing, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Cummings turns to the horror genre, crafting a werewolf film which owes as much to Zodiac as it does American Werewolf in London or The Howling.
For a sub-genre which is so ripe for allegory and to this day remains incredibly prevalent on film and TV, there simply have not been very many successful entries within the werewolf canon to speak of since Lon Chaney Jr. first appeared as the titular lycanthrope in Universal Pictures’ The Wolfman 70 years ago. Of course, there are some undeniable, stone-cold classics – including the aforementioned “American Werewolf” and “The Howling” (released back-to-back in 1981), The Company of Wolves, Silver Bullet, Bad Moon, as well as a few clever 21st century twists on the werewolf mythos such as Ginger Snaps, Late Phases, and Dog Soldiers– but all-in-all, the pickings are, as they say, quite slim.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” sits comfortably alongside the best of the werewolf sub-genre, as Cummings does an impressive job of mixing police procedural, cringe comedy, and gory horror elements. I’m unsure whether it took me half of this film’s runtime to get on its wavelength, or if the film itself took as long to nail down its very particular mélange of tones, but once it clicked for me, it really clicked.
For what is ostensibly a horror comedy, the film exhibits a lot of empathy for its victims (of which there are many), painting realistic human portraits in deftly executed montages leading up to the victims’ respective final confrontations with the titular “wolf.” Montage plays a significant role throughout the film as Jim Cummings’ lead character, Officer John Marshall, falls off the wagon, spiraling back into old self-destructive habits which affect his work, his home life, and his grip on reality, representing visually the policeman’s increasingly unhinged mental state through purposefully confusing and disorienting edits which serve to jumble together the past, the present, and the future in an alcohol-induced haze. Cummings’ acting ability shines when the screenplay (which he also wrote and directed, as with his debut “Thunder Road”) allows him to go fully off the rails in the film’s back half, turning in a performance which is equally hilarious, frustrating, cringe-inducing, and at times, utterly heartbreaking.
The same can be said for Robert Forster’s Sheriff Hadley, who’s suffering from an ailing heart, but remains too stubborn to retire from the force despite his son (Officer Marshall)’s insistence. Forster passed in 2019, leaving behind an incredible legacy and an impressive body of work, for which his final performance in “Snow Hollow” serves as a fitting swan song. The role is, admittedly, quite small, but no less powerful for its brevity, as Forster exudes a sense of pathos and world-weariness, speaking volumes about his character often with only so much as a glance.
"The Wolf of Snow Hollow" represents a progression of the tonal balancing act writer, director, actor Jim Cummings pulled off in his feature debut, "Thunder Road," utilizing many tools and tricks that weren't available to him on his previous outing, now with an infinitely larger budget ("Snow Hollow" was produced by Orion Pictures), as well as a game cast of professional actors (Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Jimmy Tatro) who seem to really "get" Cummings' unique style and approach to filmmaking - at the end of the day though, it's the multi-hyphenate writer, director, actor's portrayal of Officer Marshall which serves as the glue that holds "Snow Hollow" together.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow: Hair of the Dog
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Acting - 9/109/10
Music - 7.5/107.5/10
Production - 8/108/10
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