Writer/director/actor Jim Cummings had one of the best sleeper hits of 2018 with Thunder Road. Adapted from his short film of the same name, Cummings’ performance is a tour de force in the story of a police officer overcoming his internal turbulence when his professional and personal life begin to crumble. The Wolf of Snow Hollow finds him as a similarly troubled police officer—only this time, there isn’t just family trauma and fatherhood struggles to handle, as a wild wolf appears to be killing tourists in his mountain resort town. Cummings has moved from an offbeat comedy/drama to an offbeat B-horror film, and the transition is seamless.
Thunder Road was the type of film where a budget of twenty thousand or twenty million wouldn’t have made much of a difference. The Wolf of Snow Hollow is similarly made on the lower end of the budget spectrum, but it doesn’t look the part. Even the presence of late great Robert Forster (complete with the Sheriff Truman ten-gallon hat) doesn’t dissuade the fact that this is a true B-movie. But Natalie Kingston’s cinematography gives the snowy town an exotic look, along with plenty of dynamic camera movements when the action comes. It’s impressively crafted and written, with Cummings showing just as much control behind the camera as he does confusion in front of it. His dialogue is so realistically odd that only Cummings and a Twin Peaks veteran surrounded by an arsenal of little known actors could make it convincing. Hopefully this is the big break for many, because everyone is stellar.
This is a film chasing the greatness of the creature features and slashers of the mid-20th century and a continuation of Cummings’ love for the struggling family man, with a dash of dark crime thrillers to top off the genre blend. All the elements miraculously blend together, with officer John Marshall’s workplace frustration just as compelling to watch as the shadowy night killings. Despite how dark the subject can get, it’s an effective black comedy with a lot of laughably bizarre lines. At a scant 83 minutes, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is quick and to the point, despite plenty of room for the odd dialogue and cast of characters. The titular wolf is quite the presence, one that is rarely shown in full view but always shows up under the sudden full moon just when you start to get comfortable in the daytime.
I mentioned Twin Peaks before, and Forster isn’t the only connection this film seems to share with the surreal soap opera. There’s a similar tonal balance that Cummings’ script manages to adeptly walk, most notably, the violent killings coupled with the town’s comically inept police force. There is pressure on them from all sides, as business in the resort town immediately starts to decline when the news catches up with the killings. We have a fun series of investigations and interviews early in the film that show off the eccentric and hilarious townsfolk, but the turbulent state of the community is always felt throughout. In a doubly funny and tragic montage, we see Marshall attending the funerals of the victims of the wolf, usually leading to him being berated by fellow mourners. It’s a film unafraid to acknowledge that the inaction of the police force is a real problem, one whose lack of punctuality costs several people their lives. Marshall is of course not the only one responsible for this, but he’s never let off the hook either.
The film is at its weakest in the climax when this important dichotomy of horror and quirk is lost. While there is a fun, suspenseful scene between Marshall and a mysterious suspect that still makes the most of his odd rhythm, the mystery finally being solved is quite anticlimactic despite how grand the film wants to feel with its showdown. Seeing Marshall’s character get a satisfying turn around does make up for the uneven resolution, though. While not as strong as his emotionally gutting debut, The Wolf of Snow Hollow takes what works about Thunder Road and puts it in a new genre context with some creature fun to add to the appeal. It’s an unusual turn for Cummings that I hope is an early sign of more experimentation to come. I tip my ten-gallon hat to this oddball creature feature.