'The Wolf of Snow Hollow': Film Review | Fantastic Fest 2020

Orion Classics
An uneasy match of personal filmmaking and genre conventions.

'Thunder Road' director Jim Cummings returns with the tale of a small-town sheriff hunting a werewolf.

In Jim Cummings' attention-grabbing 2016 short film Thunder Road, which spawned a 2018 feature by the same name, the writer-director played a grief-struck cop dealing with an angry estranged wife and his responsibilities to their young daughter. His role is nearly identical on paper in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a bloody mystery that shares some of the previous film's uncategorizable edge but is never quite as compellingly strange. Satisfying enough as a horror/slasher flick with a black-comedy aftertaste, it has some commercial appeal but doesn't represent a step forward artistically.

This is not the most opportune time for a movie about a cop with anger-management issues, and the film's ambivalence about Cummings' flawed but well-intentioned John Marshall will not suit some viewers' mood. But here he is: a recovering alcoholic, twisted up with anxiety and guilt, attempting to run the Snow Hollow sheriff's department while the actual officeholder, John's father (Robert Forster, in his final film), tries to hide a heart ailment.

Juggling those office politics gets immensely harder when a tourist is brutally murdered. Her body is mutilated and there are no suspects, sending townspeople into panicked talk about a serial killer. When forensic experts say the body was attacked by a giant animal, and a fellow cop suggests werewolves, John can hardly contain his rage.

Though they command one's attention, Cummings' tightly-wound freakouts aren't as twitchily comic as those of Thunder Road's Officer Arnaud. They're more sad, especially when viewed through the eyes of John's sympathetic, much more professional fellow officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome). While John struggles to manage the team, Julia calmly starts adding up clues.

And more clues pile on, as a new body is found every night of this full-moon cycle. Cutting between police business and the crimes, the film shows us the werewolf starting pretty early on; it also suggests the beast is an anonymous drug addict who spends his days getting high in a small RV. The movie has something of a meta-revelation about its genre when, well into research about the women this wolf attacks and increasingly worried for his sexually active teenager, John looks at Julia and wonders, "Huh, do you think women have had to face this kind of danger forever?" A blank stare is the kindest possible response.

As its predecessor did, Wolf piles pressures and abuse upon its protagonist's shoulders that sometimes stretch credulity; one wonders if Cummings, like mid-career Mel Gibson, enjoys suffering onscreen a bit too much. John falls off the wagon and becomes a little hard to take, as his stupor further confuses the film's tone and creates a speed bump for its plot. Julia, you start to think, might secretly be the hero of a more coherent movie unspooling in the theater next door — one about working under men who, however decent they may be, can't rise to the challenges they face and never realize how much they rely on you. Lindhome, so often a supporting player, would be great in that film's lead. But first, she'll need to stand by her man long enough for him to catch this killer in his own circuitous way.

Venue: Fantastic Fest
Production companies: New Form, Vanishing Angle
Distributor: Orion Classics
Cast: Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome, Robert Forster, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro
Director-Screenwriter: Jim Cummings
Producers: Matt Miller, Natalie Metzger, Benjamin Wiessner, Kathleen Grace, Matt Hoklotubbe, Michael McGarry
Director of photography: Natalie Kingston
Production designer: charlie Textor
Costume designer:
Editors: Patrick Nelson Barnes, R. Brett Thomas
Composer: Ben Lovett
Casting director: Amey Rene

R, 84 minutes