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Fantastic Fest Review: 'The Wolf of Snow Hollow' takes aim at werewolf noir

Jim Cummings' 'The Wolf of Snow Hollow' uses horror highlights to heighten cop procedural architectures, pitting "the fuzz" against...well, more fuzz.

Going hunting in 'The Wolf Of Snow Hollow.'
(Image: © Orion Classics)

Our Verdict

'The Wolf of Snow Hollow' feels unbalanced when horror and humor are weighed against one another, but Jim Cummings still finds a capable Nowheresville monster hunt within his town's paranoid state of emergency.

For

  • 🐺 The hunt is thrilling.
  • 🐺 Fierce at times.

Against

  • 🐺 Comedy wavers in delivery.
  • 🐺 Off-kilter tonal cues.

Much like any human hiding their Lycan curse, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow reveals more than the perceived werewolf narrative. Jim Cummings writes, directs, and stars in a snowcapped sinister comedy where bodies mount as local law enforcement fails to apprehend someone, something, that’s slaughtering women townsfolk. Shades of Fargo overshadow attacks carried out by a hulking figure, as an emphasis on offbeat character dramatics becomes the film’s unfocused but still enthralling purpose. The word I’d use is “scattershot,” since horror influences are downplayed by the barrage of tonally at-odds humor that doesn’t always squeeze into place.

John Marshall (Jim Cummings) is an alcoholic police officer, a distracted single father, and a self-absorbed pity parader trying to solve a string of gruesome murders. Snow Hollow finds itself under attack, as female victims find themselves torn to shreds under the fullest moons. PJ Palfrey (Jimmy Tatro) is first to report his partner's mauling, which starts chatter of a werewolf problem. As pressures and criticism mount from Snow Hollow residents, John - alongside Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster), aka pops, and Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) - attempts to solve a case that gets more disturbing with every new corpse. Always hoping his gymnast daughter Jenna (Chloe East) isn’t the latest morgue popsicle.

I hope cinematographer Natalie Kingston was compensated handsomely, because the camera’s introduction of Snow Hollow is sprawling and inviting. Rows of vacation cabins under layers of fresh, wintery powder speckle the ground below mountainous peaks, blending pure white layers into one pristine landscape. It’s something out of a snow globe, or tourist’s postcard, that sets the stage for blood-soaked savagery. Kingston accentuates this wonderland vacation aesthetic that typically enchants the ski resort trails and quaint roadside delicatessens, to juxtapose Cummings’ midnight carnage. Even against pitch-black backdrops, Kingston still sells chilly isolation by framing the monster’s outline, vapor shooting from behind separated jowls as the snarls intensify.

Speaking of Cummings, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow is a character study more than a frigid serial mystery. At the center of everything is John Marshall, as self-serving as they come. His father’s heart problems cause him stress, his daughter’s adolescent blossoming distracts him from professional duties; the list rambles for ages. He’s a loose-cannon prick with a badge, and Cummings plays him with a short abrasive fuse that’s forcibly, inorganically, making bad situations worse. Whether it’s fist-fighting the district's diener or zinging his ex-wife, claiming he'd have enjoyed himself more at “Abu Ghraib” than his current restaurant visit. It’s this sad-sack, sabotaging, slapstick edge that presents an anti-hero Cummings hopes you love to hate, but I’m not sure the “love” ever connects. Too many off-the-handle altercations feel, at most, like passing gags that trail off without much notice.

On the other hand, John’s aggressive crime scene demeanor can, in shorter bursts, break a laugh when ridiculing Officer Guttierrez’s (Skyler Bible) or Officer Chavez’s (Demetrius Daniels) crackpot theories. Furthermore, who doesn’t want to watch Robert Forster or Riki Lindhome shove an armed man-baby into his place? From obvious troublemaker red herrings to hapless interrogations to supermarket marquees inciting too much commotion, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow is benefitted by its collective, at times witless, ensemble. None of whom stand for John’s abusive tactics, nor should they based on the extremes Cummings’ pushes his characters to until they’re forced to snap right back.

Whenever The Wolf Of Snow Hollow gnashes its fangs, frustrations dissipate as tension and traumatization take a grizzly-sized chunk out of the unfurling narrative. What's left behind of PJ's soon-to-be fiancée is a gnarly, hard to stomach scene. Cummings asserts his killer's mercilessness once again when Robson tosses crime scene photos onto the precinct’s meeting room table. The script may struggle with its tonal intentions given the big picture. Still, brutal stakes are emphasized in a way that honors classic animalistic horror tales sustained by nothing but a creature’s predatory instincts. True crime via Van Helsing’s sleuthing if he were a law-upholding boozehound who’s hated by his neighborhood congregations, past lovers, and whoever else utters the word “werewolf” within earshot.

The Wolf Of Snow Hollow is a backwoods noir with one howlin’ nasty bite, albeit an uneven balance between suspense and comedy. Jim Cummings no-doubt directs with confidence, in the unwavering way he stands committed to the hybrid approach of serial slasher humor and gory, devastating mutilations. Taxidermists, bigots, and snowboard bunnies are just a smattering of the caricatures who bring Snow Hallow to life; an idyllic environment for snowmen and Red Riding Hood’s nemesis alike. It’s oddly fun-filled but gravely depicted, which in unison, raises hairs as Cummings intends. Never a surefire commodity, but when achieved, horror fans should recognize familiar frights sharper than Wolverine’s adamantium claws. Bonus points if the film’s sense of humor tickles your funnybone.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a part of our Fantastic Fest coverage.