Review: THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW, Smalltown Mania And Murder By Monster
Jim Cummings directs and stars in this uniquely compelling werewolf horror.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a damn entertaining film, forget the typical tropes of werewolf creature features, this is neither a slowburn nor an exploitive gore fest. Actor and director Jim Cummings steers the plot forward through the negative lens of his damaged yet recovering alcoholic cop character. All the while the ski resort hollow is turned into a daily bloodbath, with each victim meeting a grisly, primal end.
From Orion Classics to The Shining-esque opening of tracking drone shots across the expansive snowscape, The Wolf of Snow Hollow presents itself as a product of late eighties horror. It is not, but the frenetic heart of that aesthetic is perfectly captured. There is low-key dark comedy throughout also, but the tone of the film is its own bizarre frequency.
LA out-of-towners are the initial focus, introduced post-opening credits in an intriguing diner scene that slowly zooms in on their table. They are surrounded by strangers, some unfriendly locals, any of which could be the monster. The boyfriend calls out an overheard homophobic slur, the tension is palpable but dissipates when the offending party simply leaves. Later, the girlfriend is found dead, ripped apart.
This sleepy town has seen murders in the past, but the local police force is not equipped to deal with whatever this is. Police Officer John Marshall (Jim Cummings) is tasked with investigating. His personal issues and mounting pressure to find the killer adds to the chaos of the uncanny nature of the evil they face. He is also about to receive the torch of Sheriff, adding another layer of complexity as his father Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster, perfectly understated in his final role) is retiring due to heart issues.
The father-son dynamic plays well on-screen, their chemistry is very convincing and equally convoluted by their law enforcement roles. John is abrasive and unhinged, screaming at his colleagues, stubbornly committed to the fact the killer is a man, a serial killer. His other squadmates who are all excellent in their supportive roles humorously quip that it is definitely a werewolf, but John is terminally humorless, intentionally so he sucks even the dark jokes out of a scene with his scorn.
Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) struggles against the mania that John displays, but is headstrong and committed to solve the murder, their working relationship is a dysfunctional but engaging one and her scenes highlight how women in law enforcement are not taken seriously. The whole concept of the Police leans toward hostile, constantly berated for not solving the murders quickly enough, along with all the real world negative connotations that are bottled up as an essence in the frustrations portrayed in the film.
Like his previous film Thunder Road (2018) Jim Cummings once again plays a police officer over the edge. Unlike that meltdown, this one is spurned by relapses and the inherent insanity of facing the unknown. This is reflected in the incredible editing, smash cutting to different scenes, before, after and during events. Going through the daily motions of what is now serial murder, John essentially loses his mind, and sobriety along with it. Scenes of him at each victim’s funeral, and without context returning to past scenes makes the viewer themselves question just what is going on. Is John’s fragmented narrative due to his potential identity as the killer or monster itself?
Perhaps it is not that simple, but John is a hugely compelling protagonist, and this question is always lingering. Couple of corpses later and the whole town is starting to feel the madness. As the body count increases so does the film's creativity, matching the danger and curfew with John’s state of mind. When he hits rock bottom the daily mundane warps into a fever dream of barely standing inebriation, yet good old fashioned police work resumes in this complete disarray.
Unlike other indie horror, The Wolf of Snow Hollow does not shy away from the fact that a monster is indeed mutilating people. Scenes jarringly move from the blizzard obscured days of exhaustive police investigation, to the would-be victim’s final mundane hours. Crystal clear night arrives and they are alone, isolated by empty space and the imposing full moon’s light highlighting the tall beast, fur and all as it closes in. The gore effects and monster design take full advantage of the film’s modest budget.
Just when enough is resolved, does the film really shock with a finale that finds unexpected character growth in the relapsed Sheriff. The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an excellent film, linking personal breakdown and alcoholism with a creature feature that really sorts out the men from the monsters. Jim Cummings is a hell of a talent.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is in theatres and On Demand from October 9, 2020.