One of my favourite perks in a film is when the characters are good at their jobs—it helps sell that conflict and tension better when things don’t go as planned or when things catch the characters off guard. The Wolf of Snow Hollow proudly proves the opposite. Most of the characters in this film, especially our protagonist, are utter shit at their jobs—it’s great.
But writer/director Jim Cummings never takes the easy route. He presents his characters’ incompetence as largely just stress in the workplace. For our lead Officer John Marshall (played by Cummings), his entire personal life has been falling apart long before the events of the film start. His dad (Robert Forster), the town sheriff, is sick. He doesn’t get along with his ex-wife. He doesn’t have the time or sensibility to be a good father to his daughter (Chloe East). Lastly, he’s struggling to recover from alcoholism.
And now the town of Snow Hollow has a “werewolf” killer on the loose. Grisly murders turn up night after night, but it seems like the police are always a step behind—the whole town can sense their incompetence—and it makes for moments of amazing dark comedy. The police think it’s a werewolf, but John is convinced it’s a man. Lines are dropped here and there that point to the film’s self-awareness that werewolves don’t exist.
Full Moon Genre Thrills Meets Thunder Road
Cummings’ first feature-length film, Thunder Road, was one of my favourite films of 2018. I cannot begin to express my excitement as he takes all the dramedy elements that worked so well in that film and uses them alongside genre thrills here with The Wolf of Snow Hollow.
Yes, even when the protagonists and their conflicts are very similar, lightning does strike twice.
In addition to John Marshall being similar to Thunder Road’s Jim Arnaud, Snow Hollow is edited in a way that favours drama and comedy over horror tropes. The audience is often set up to expect an entertainingly graphic and scary sequence, but Cummings twists those expectations by having the scene intercut with bickering police officers. It’s a fun, welcome surprise thanks to some stylistic and clever editing by Patrick Nelson Barnes and R. Brett Thomas.
That’s not to say we don’t get what we want with the horror thrills, because when the time calls for it, Cummings knows how to bring on the blood and the money shots—there’s one mouth-watering money shot within the first thirty minutes.
Plot vs. Character
The film occasionally loses its footing in how it juggles plot and character development, because the former keeps the film moving forward, while the latter encourages the film to slow down and take its time.
With Cummings having to keep us invested in John’s plight, he also has to make sure we’re still interested in figuring out who is responsible for all the killings around town. This makes for a tricky situation in getting the film to be tonally consistent, paced fluidly, and structured in an organic way that allows enough time to resolve both storylines.
All in all, I would say that Cummings successfully pulls it off here, although I do think the third act is a bit too short in length compared to the previous two acts. You can feel the film is almost pressured in the last fifteen minutes to wrap everything up quickly. Excluding the end credits, The Wolf of Snow Hollow clocks in at an efficient 1 hour and 19 minutes. I really would not have minded if the runtime grew by another fifteen to twenty minutes just for the third act.
A Unique Breed of Horror Dramedy You Must Check Out
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a unique breed. It’s got plenty of dark comedy and sweet genuine drama for the characters to grow and become better people, while serving up delicious horror tropes for the bloodhounds to sink their teeth into.
Given that this is only his second film, and he wrote, directed, and starred in it, Jim Cummings is a face and voice to look out for right now. Very little here is done as an homage or a callback to something that already exists—he truly finds something original out of familiar material that we’ve seen time and time again. On top of that, he brings out fantastic performances from Robert Forster, Chloe East, and Riki Lindhome as Julia, John’s far more competent police partner.
Call me satisfied. I cannot wait to see what genre Cummings tackles next.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow was released in limited theatres and on VOD on October 9, 2020.