2020 | R | starring Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome, Robert Forester, Jimmy Tatro | written & directed by Jim Cummings | 1 hr 23 mins |
In the frozen-over mountain town of Snow Hollow, Utah, office John Marshall (Jim Cummings) is on the verge of succeeding his father (Robert Forster, in his final film) where it not for his own crippling alcoholism and explosive temper. Snow Hollow is soon gripped with fear when what seems to be a werewolf leaves a string of ripped-apart corpses of women. Juggling his daughter heading off to college and the murders, Marshall starts sliding into a nervous breakdown while the town demands the wolf be stopped.
I feel like I’ve watched several movies in the last few years that hung on where it was going or a surprise ending. Where I spent the time waiting to see what it had up it’s sleeve. A good movie can knock you out with where it goes, but a great movie knocks you out from the beginning and takes you along for the ride. That movie comes along maybe once or twice a year. Star/writer/director Jim Cummings’ second film, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, is such a movie. So well crafted, creative and endlessly entertaining from the get-go that I was trying to remember bits of dialog and scenes while the movie was still playing out.
Cummings already has an impressive debut at his back, with the 2018 tragicom Thunder Road weaponizing cringe-comedy into a punch in the gut. Snow Hollow plays a tad like a sequel, with a similarly disturbed police officer cursed without the gift of grace in way over his head. But this time he seques flawlessly into genre worldbuilding. Part quirky indie character study, part true-to-form werewolf film, Cummings mixes these disparate elements together without clear dividing lines. The horror elements are immersive and atmospheric, balanced with the film’s biggest surprise – it is hilarious. The dryly executed slapstick comedy sneaks up on us. It plays a lot like the fitfully funny arguments of The Departed or The Big Lebowski, where professionals and friends get into screaming matches with each other on the job. In a just world, this movie would grow to the cult stature that Lebowski enjoys.
When was the last time you saw a good werewolf movie? That didn’t botch the idea or fall into cheesy costume effects. That we actually see the wolf fairly early in Snow Hollow doesn’t blow out the film’s punch as Marshall’s chaotic mental unravelling actually upstages a 7 ft wolf. As in Thunder Road, Cummings is terrific, his screeches of boiling rage at the bumbling cops under him are laugh-out-loud jarring and he dances just below the Jim Carrey/rubberface line where it would be too much if he wasn’t fully committed to the character as a person first. The movie plays all of this as straight and serious as possible. The town almost treats the werewolf murders as a nuisance and everyone is bewildered that the cops haven’t already cracked a seemingly simple case. It’s not enough that Marshall has to stop the murders and keep the wolf away from his daughter, he has to deal with the Facebook posts of the wife of a guy in his AA meetings.
All of this works from start to finish, despite the movie having what on paper would seem like a, for lack of a better phrase, TV series finale. Because TV shows have to come back each week episodes generally go through a reset that restores everything, where a movie can usually go higher stakes and more outrageous, unencumbered by the necessity to have all of it’s characters continue on. In a broad sense Snow Hollow has a TV series resolution to it’s central mystery, one that isn’t as high stakes as the alternative (I’m dancing around the reveal a bit), and yet Cummings lays it all out there for an incredibly satisfying finale. The movie is ultimately more grounded in the real world than it initially appears which makes it stand out in werewolf fare. As Cummings’ character is convinced that the wolf isn’t really a wolf, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he cites that the werewolf myth originated just because full moons allowed for enough light for killers to see in the dark.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow does all of this in just over 80 minutes. It is textbook excellent writing and filmmaking where every scene and every line of dialog advances the story or characters in some way. A work of maximum efficiency that has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t. Thrilling, artful and laugh-out-loud funny. Is Snow in it’s own little way a perfect movie. I was impressed with Cummings after Thunder Road, now I can’t wait to see what he does next.