Two years ago, writer/director Jim Cummings released his feature film Thunder Road, an oddly charming and funny drama about a police officer (played by the filmmaker) having a breakdown after the one-two punch of his mother dying and his own divorce. As something of a spiritual sequel to that film, in The Wolf of Snow Hollow Cummings returns to the writer/director/actor roles in another story of a member of law enforcement on the verge of mental collapse. This time, there’s probably a werewolf making things just a little more difficult for this poor guy.
Cummings plays Sheriff John Marshall, living in a fairly dead-end, small mountain town in which his aging, sickly father (the late Robert Forster, in his final feature role) also happens to be a sheriff who refuses to acknowledge his frailty. Marshall is dealing with a lot: he’s recently divorced; his department has a few too many folks who took jobs in law enforcement because nothing catastrophic ever happens in this town; his daughter (Chloe East) is beyond rebellious; he’s an alcoholic; and he has anger-management issues. All of this sounds terribly tragic except that Marshall’s rage comes out at the most inappropriate times and always seems really funny because his intensity seems way out of place in most situations.
The only other officer who has a clue how to investigate a crime is Julia Robson (Riki LIndhome), who clearly has a crush on him but he’s oblivious because he’s dealing with a dozen other things, both personally and professionally. That includes what turns into a string of ghastly, vicious murders that may be the work of an animal, though some seem convinced (mostly because of the full moon) that it might be a werewolf. And yes, the film is set in a world where no one in their right mind believes in werewolves, but when you’ve eliminated all other possibilities, the answer must be what’s left. One of the things Marshall gets the most angry about is when anyone mentions werewolves in the context of these killings, in which some body parts are actually missing.
With the stress of his life and the pressure to find whatever is killing these people upon him, Marshall returns to drinking, which only makes him more angry and filled with white male rage (the worst kind of rage, as we all know). Cummings embodies this persona so perfectly, in all its useless perfection. His anger pushes away the very people he needs to rally around him, and in some cases, pick up the slack that his runaway emotions and drinking are creating. And placing him side by side with Forster’s stubborn, overly proud sheriff/father, it’s impossible not to see where Marshall gets his tendency for extreme behavior.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is filled with interesting characters, most of whom get at least a moment or two to show us who they really are and what makes them tick (or avoid ticking), and Cummings doesn’t skimp on the handful of scares he gives us just before and during the attacks. It becomes clear that the unlocking of the mystery behind the killings is almost superfluous, and that Cummings’ true objective is these wonderful mini-character studies that together form the backbone of this otherwise boring little town. Most of these people don’t care about solving a crime; they just want things to go back to quiet and normal.
Some viewers may never quite lock into the film’s odd tone, but the richly drawn portraits of ineptitude and emotional instability are exactly my jam, and seem to capture the feel of the world we’re surrounded by/living in right now. I eagerly await what Cummings brings us next, but at this moment, I feel like I could re-watch this little gem many more times in the next 24 hours.
The film is available via VOD and in select theaters.
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