The Wolf of Snow Hollow

 

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Writer-director-star Jim Cummings recycles his turn as a flawed officer of the law in a nicely balanced horror-comedy.

   
Wolf of Snow Hollow

  

In a year of historic protests against systemic power structures across the world, public opinion has vastly shifted against the police, specifically American police. Independent filmmaker Jim Cummings might be the last passionate defender of the American Small Town Cop. He played one to great effect in his fantastic debut feature Thunder Road, a gripping comedy-drama focusing on the struggles of a man trying to keep his family together in the American South. Now, in his follow-up, Cummings hopes to repeat his earlier success by playing a similar character in a similar setting. However, he may not have made his sophomore effort different enough to justify its existence.

 

There’s certainly something to be said for playing to your strengths. Both of Cummings’ cop characters are divorced alcoholics struggling with maintaining healthy relationships with their daughter and ex-wife. Both men are less than stellar police officers with few friendships and dead mothers. In The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Cummings does have a father (played by the late, great Robert Forster), which adds a dash of further complexity, but the similarities are too stark and apparent to ignore. The bumbling, ineffective policeman is a fine character, and Cummings is certainly talented at performing it, but there are only so many ways to bring nuance from the same situation across multiple films. As someone who was familiar with Thunder Road, I found many of the dramatic character beats repetitive and predictable. Cummings doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish his two characters from each other. That’s not inherently a bad thing, there is certainly room here for deconstruction of that archetype. The film just never goes there, and it is hard to push the idea of wasted potential out of the mind while watching Cummings hit the same notes, oftentimes with less impact than on his previous venture.

 

The filmmaking is the star, here. Cummings is a fine actor, but he truly impresses with his ability to juggle so many different roles. He serves as the writer, director and leading man, and his talents in each of those areas is undeniable. The film feels very cohesive, apparent it came from a single mind who knows exactly what story he wants to tell – and how he wants to tell it. The visuals are gorgeous and haunting, portraying Utah in such a way that the state’s stark beauty and ferocious wilderness are highlighted in equal measure. The way the film is able to create a foreboding atmosphere from the cheery Christmas aesthetic of the resort town – Snow Hollow – is inspired, and the tonal balance of comedy and horror hasn’t been achieved this seamlessly since Edgar Wright’s masterpiece Shaun of the Dead.

 

Still, given the current climate, Cummings’ reluctance to offer any substantial criticism of the idea of the police officer does leave a sour aftertaste. One can’t help but wonder if this was the time or place to tell a story like this. Most audiences will most likely be willing to look past that issue and appreciate the well-paced narrative, tightly constructed mystery, and shockingly memorable finale. Hopefully next time Cummings will demonstrate he has more than one trick up his sleeve.

 

CALEB JOHN CUSHING

 

Cast: Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro, Robert Forster, Marshall Allman, Neville Archambault, Jimmy Tatro, Will Madden, Annie Hamilton, Hannah Elder, Kelsey Edwards, Skyler Bible.

 

Dir Jim Cummings, Pro Kathleen Grace, Matt Hoklotubbe and Michael J. McGarry, Screenplay Jim Cummings, Ph Natalie Kingston, Pro Des Charlie Textor, Ed Patrick Nelson Barnes, Music Ben Lovett, Costumes Anna Hayes.

 

Vanishing Angle/Orion Classics-MGM.

83 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 12 October 2020. Cert. 15.