Jim Cummings’ ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ Growls With Gore and Absurd Hilarity
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is such an odd movie. It wants to be a scare that is taken seriously and a goofball romp. The result is somewhere in-between. But it leans more towards the latter. For Jim Cummings it’s an offbeat exercise meant to show us he can tackle different genres. His 2018 feature debut, “Thunder Road,” proved he could make work of manic hilarity. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is once again about a cop with issues, but tossed into a furry blender of awkward jokes and werewolves.
As far as B-movies go, this one is pleasant to look at for its hour and a half. Cummings’s screenplay sets the action in Snow Hollow, a rural town of pines and vast, snow-covered landscapes. After a woman is found brutally murdered, Deputy John Marshall (Cummings), son of Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster in his final role) starts investigating. He has few resources, but it’s obvious to Marshall and fellow Deputy, Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome), that there’s a killer on the prowl. More bodies appear, mutilated savagely with what seems to be wolf tracks left nearby. But Marshall is dealing with his own demons stemming from alcoholism and lingering rage at his ex-wife. Even his daughter, Jenna (Chloe East), just rolls her eyes at him. But who is the killer butchering locals, a deranged serial killer or something else?
Cummings has designed “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” as a bit of a showcase for his zany character. More than the wolf creature who appears every time someone gets filleted, the dominating factor in the movie is Marshall and his meltdowns. He interrogates people with an awkward, rapid-fire tone and spontaneously garbles bizarre jokes. He also casually shares violent fantasies involving his ex-wife. It would work better if Cummings didn’t make a lot of the non-action scenes seem so staged. Moments feel like sketches for an SNL pitch in terms of the acting and delivery of lines, as if the performers are constantly aware they’re doing this for a camera. All except Robert Forster, who delivers the film’s best performance and his last before passing away last year. Forster has that perfect blend of subdued, straight-faced humor worthy of a Coen Brothers movie. Cummings has a few good moments in-between the hokey ones, his best being at the beginning when he stands up at an AA meeting with a hilariously pompous tone.
Disconnected from the personal stories is the overall mystery involving the roving wolf creature. Be warned, this is not a werewolf movie per se. There is some gore, mostly shot with a clunky, low-budget style that can be a guilty pleasure to behold. But fans of “The Wolfman” or “The Howling” won’t find any real chills or blood-soaked suspense. Cummings even falls flat a few times trying to make jokes with the violence (like a recurring reference to a victim’s vagina being torn out). When he keeps it as a goofy mystery the movie is more enjoyable, this is also aided by Natalie Kingston’s cold cinematography, which gives us gothic nights and snowy vistas. One wishes Cummings would have spent more time around town as well, not only to give the story more cohesion and purpose, but because there are genuinely funny characters all around. Maybe he needed to write his own “Fargo,” where you don’t need to keep returning to the scary movie gimmick all the time. There is also a great story angle about the relationship of Marshall and his daughter Jenna, and how she knows her father is not an emotionally stable person. But just as it’s getting intriguing, the narrative gets upended by the whole wolf monster thing when Jenna decides to make out with a guy late at night in a car, which is the perfect time for a giant wolf to strike.
The ending becomes so clunky you realize it’s hard to explain what exactly happened. Marshall cracks the case, sort of. We’re more disappointed because Cummings could’ve had real fun here, but goes for such a throwaway resolution that you wonder what was the point of the whole idea.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” has some good elements, including some genuinely funny goofball moments. But it gets pulled all over the place and doesn’t know what it wants to be. Cummings is still working his way towards a truly masterful comedy. This is one furry misstep but still contains a sniff of real talent.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” releases Oct. 9 on VOD and in select cities.