In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
Anyone who has seen Jim Cummings’ previous film, Thunder Road, knows the type of indescribably dry humor, laced with compelling drama, that the writer/director likes to employ. His latest, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, takes the same flavors and applies them to horror and, more specifically, to the werewolf subgenre. He wouldn’t be the first to imbue a werewolf movie with humor. In fact, it feels like a lot of the best werewolf tales–An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Teen Wolf–are very funny. Perhaps it’s the body horror element that requires some levity to recover from as a viewer. Robbing a typically innocent character of their autonomy and turning them into a violent creature of the night is a pretty cruel fate to dish out to anyone, and when it happens to the audience surrogate, a few jokes can really help the film not be so punishing.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is different, however, in that it doesn’t follow the afflicted lycanthrope, but rather the group of small town policemen and women who are tasked with bringing the creature down. Their leader, John Marshall (Jim Cummings) has his hands full. He’s a recovering alcoholic, his ex-wife and teenaged daughter are growing less and less fond of him by the day, and his father (Robert Forster, RIP), who is also the sheriff, is falling into ill health. The last thing John needs is for mangled corpses to be piling up night after night, but alas, he’s got to deal with that too.
The film itself wears a pretty straight face, which is key to the way it balances humor, drama, and horror. The dialogue is filled with extremely dry, rapid fire exchanges, dripping sometimes with passive aggression, and other times with full-on aggression, but none of it is played with a wink or nod. Instead all of the humor and drama come from the same place — the characters. By setting this in the real world, and populating the story with characters who are not so much heightened as they are odd, most scenes interlace fast comedy with compelling drama pretty evenly, while being sure to humanize every last one of them. Last year, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die tried to tell a story about small town cops vs. a monstrous threat, but leaned into the comedy so hard that, despite being a really enjoyable film, makes for a forgettable final product. The Wolf of Snow Hollow, on the other hand, will be fresh in my mind for quite some time.
Despite the film not being about the unlucky schmuck who gets bitten by a mysterious creature, it is indeed about a man reckoning with the monster that lives within him. Our protagonist is not necessarily a bad man, but he’s got a big problem with ego, and is unable to do much without making every little thing about himself. He worries about shortcomings with his daughter because it makes him look bad. He worries about his dad’s health because he doesn’t want to be seen as the son who did nothing. He wants to stop the wolf attacks because the sheriff’s office cannot appear incompetent. When his back is against the wall he lashes out, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the people around him who really only want to help, and frequently cutting into them in painfully unfair ways.
The way the script handles this difficult characterization is impressive, choosing to appeal to John’s humanity rather than treating him like a villain. As a man who struggles with addiction, you can see the duality at play in every moment. He is very much like poor Larry Talbot in that he’s trying his best, and would thrive in a meek life, but when his demons manifest, there’s just no stopping the carnage. Where he differs from Mr. Talbot is that there is nothing supernatural in John’s transformation, and therefore there is a cure, but it’s one that must come from within. The Wolf of Snow Hollow doesn’t seek easy answers either, landing at an ending that, while quite satisfying, is not the clean slate that so many tales of addiction and ego falter in depicting. It’s a very human ending, and one that speaks to a level of personal thoughtfulness on the part of Cummings himself. In conjunction with Thunder Road, it’s clear this is a filmmaker who does a fair amount of introspection.
The wolf attack scenes are a standout. The film pulls no punches showing the beast in full view pretty much right away, and let me tell you it looks great. The attacks are extremely visceral, and they befall characters that the script takes time to bring to life before dispatching them in such wonderfully vulgar ways. A fun piece of direction is the way that the attacks are intercut with after-the-fact scenes of John and his crew discovering the grisly details. Depicting it this way allows for the wolf attacks to run parallel to moments where John’s inner monster shows itself. It’s a smart way to double down on the thematic resonance. It also keeps the pace tight, resulting in a very short movie that has a ton of story packed gracefully inside of it.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is so many things wrapped into a lean, mean package of entertainment. It’s a horror movie, a comedy, a police procedural, a family drama, and a study of ego, entitlement, and the way people can get hastily drunk on power. Above all else, however, the film acts as another calling card for the talent of Jim Cummings, whose name will known far and wide in due time.
Also, it’s a quiet declaration that Riki Lindhome should be in pretty much every movie ever.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow opens tomorrow for digital rental and at the Delsea Drive-In