Meet John (Jim Cummings). He’s an officer in a small Utah town, investigating a series of grisly murders. Oh, and he’s an alcoholic. Our first introduction to him in The Wolf of Snow Hollow is at an AA meeting, minutes after the film opens with a woman brutally murdered during a getaway with her boyfriend. John’s out to prove himself, solve the murder, and pull his life together, including his strained relationship with his daughter, Jenna (Chloe East). At the center of this werewolf movie is a family drama with a heavy dose of comedy. In turn, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is one of the most innovative and unique werewolf flicks since Ginger Snaps (2000) and one of the best horror films of the year.
Written and directed by Cummings and starring Cummings, the film strikes just the right notes and balance. There’s plenty of gore for genre fans. As mentioned, the opening scene includes a gruesome death that jumpstarts the rest of the narrative. The wolf rips out the victim’s private parts. The other murders are just as bloody, sometimes more so. The werewolf is rarely seen, but the old less is more technique really works here. We sometimes see shots of him ramming against a car or mauling his victims, but these are generally off-center glimpses. During the few instances in which the werewolf is seen, the creature is a towering figure beneath a full moon. There is no great transformation scene like An American Werewolf in London, but that’s okay. The film doesn’t need it.
The movie’s horror is countered perfectly by its drama and comedy. John is desperate to get his life together and to solve the murders so that he can become sheriff, just like his father, Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster). Their relationship is also conflicted. On the one hand, John wants to shake the shadow of his old man, but on the other hand, he wants his job and believes he should retire, since he has a heart murmur. Their dynamic is one of the film’s greatest strengths, underscored by the fact that Forster died last year. The film is dedicated to his memory. His performance is the right blend of seriousness and comedy. His quips with the local press are especially delightful.
Cummings, meanwhile, delivers some comedic gold. When he saves his daughter after a too-close-for-comfort attack, he shouts at her about making out in a car with a boy and breaking curfew. He then screams that he’s “trying to do his job.” At any point, John could snap, and the stress of the job causes him to drink again. Werewolf folklore and films have always been about dual personalities, about an inner monster lurking deep within, ready to explode at any moment. John is a perfect manifestation of that trope. He has anger issues and a drinking problem. He’s a divorcee stuck in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Cummings handles this performance with the right amount of absurdity and seriousness. His over-the-top dialogue and antics may be too much for some viewers, but it fits with the rest of the movie.
The film also has a major female character trying to stand out in a podunk town and within a largely male-centric department. Detective Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) possesses a type of smarts and calm that’s a stark contrast to John. Further, Lindhome’s level-headed performance is a nice contrast to Cummings, who is meant to be over the top. They play off each other well, and her character grounds him when he most needs it.
It’s hard not to watch The Wolf of Snow Hollow without thinking about Fargo. A group of beat officers are placed on a case much larger than what they can handle. Further, everyone in the town is skeptical that the police have the capabilities to solve the case and catch the murderer. Several of them make snide remarks to John, which causes him to verbally lash out on more than one occasion. Additionally, the film does a great job keeping us guessing about the werewolf’s identity. Suspicions rise with the death count.
Kudos also needs to be given to Cummings as a director and Natalie Kingston as cinematographer. They make the most of the Utah setting. There are long shots showing the snow-capped town and mountains. You can feel just how enclosed it is. Softly falling snow with Christmas music playing in the background creates the perfect winter atmosphere. The use of “Auld Lang Syne” during the climax, when the wolf is finally revealed, is just perfect.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow takes the familiar werewolf movie and does something unique with it. It places a family drama at the center of what would otherwise be a generic horror movie. It contains plenty of laughs and just the right mix of horror and comedy, striking a flawless tone. It’s a bloody good time set in a winter wonderland.
Currently streaming On Demand, The Wolf of Snow Hollow comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on Dec. 15, just in time for the holidays. Add it to your Christmas list.
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