As far as writing, directing, producing and starring in your own movie goes, examples of this being pulled off successfully are few and far between. Chances are your mind immediately wanders to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, which despite its cult fanbase is widely regarded as the worst movie ever made. It is often said that if you want something done properly you should do it yourself, and 2020’s The Wolf of Snow Hollow (the brainchild of relative newcomer Jim Cummings) is a uniquely impressive feat of this jack-of-all-trades approach, a stand-out exhibition of the kinds of synergistic magic that can result from a single vision of a story executed perfectly at every level.
Much like its creator, it’s hard to really pin down and define what the film actually is. Is it a slasher horror? A comedy? Perhaps a murder mystery? Something in between? There are no right answers. The film is set in a sleepy mountain town in Utah, and wastes little time as it dives head first into the meat of the story. The film embraces with open arms the classic horror opening sequence with the ominous introduction and subsequent murder of a Californian woman on holiday with her slightly obnoxious hubby, with little left behind but her mutilated body and a bloody pawprint in the snow.
Cut scene. John (played by Jim Cummings) stands up at an AA meeting and confesses his sins to the group, and already we in the audience notice a tonal schism in the story as he gives a wry, distracted account of his relationship with alcohol. He is then called to the scene of the crime as the hapless and underprepared police team attempt to mount a response under the direction of Sheriff Hadley, John’s father. Hadley, we learn, is well overdue his retirement, but stubbornly clings to his post much to the irritation of John who is also his presumed successor.
The Sheriff is quite rattled by the gruesome corpse and media attention, so he entrusts John to assemble a dedicated team to crack the case. John eagerly agrees, seeing the homicide as his chance to prove he’s worth his salt and ready to assume his dad’s position as chief. He sets out assembling a team, but faces up against the obstacles of small town policing: scant resources, fast-travelling rumours and complacent officers that are not best pleased about having had their easy routines rudely interrupted.
Another full moon arrives, and so does another body. And another one. John is really in over his head. Not only does he lose the rag at the incompetence of his colleagues, but he’s also got his ex-wife getting on his back about his absent relationship with his daughter, and there’s even word of mouth speculation that some kind of monster is on the loose. The film really excels at capturing his temper reaching boiling point, and the humour that sprouts from his various misfortunes is so dry that as a viewer you sometimes question whether or not you should even be laughing.
Overall, the movie is so good at digging into John’s character and placing you in his shoes. It makes for such a crushingly claustrophobic watch as he’s hemmed in at all sides by family problems, unrelenting and intrusive media scrutiny and the panicked expectations of a town which has lost its faith in his detective abilities. It really has to be watched to be appreciated but the tone of the film is just so intriguingly unusual as it straddles the line between gory thriller and jet black comedy in an original way. As the pressure builds and builds, John can’t contain his own demons anymore and the monster within begins to finally break free and lash out.
I won’t really be spoiling the film by telling you that the murderer is indeed a werewolf, because really the true tension of the film lies in John’s inner conflicts and his relationships to others. It flew over my head on the first watch but the reason Cummings chose a werewolf as a focal point of the movie in the first place was because he felt the myth had a lot of similarities with alcoholism (those being blackouts, next-day regret and such), so the baddie of the movie functions as a sort of parable to explore John’s relationship with drink which takes centre stage.
It’s so difficult to believe that Cummings isn’t a trained actor, such is the power of his performance. Every line he delivers is so expertly harmonised with the rest of the film, testament to his writing and directorship as well. The rest of the cast has fantastic chemistry with each other, with a particularly stellar showing from Chloe East as John’s right-hand woman Jenna.
In all, this is another pandemic release that has been so slept on. This is easily one of the best films of last year and yet I only heard about it through word of mouth. I’m confident this will come to be remembered as a future classic, and as for Cummings I’m extremely excited to see what he throws his creative weight behind next. You should definitely check this tongue-in-cheek thriller out – it’s the perfect marriage of drier than dry humour and campy horror tropes that’s paced to a tee. Inertia approves.
Words by Charlie Forbes