The Halloween vibes are officially in full effect. Jim Cummings’ sophomore effort, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, brings a paranormal twist to the serial killer genre, but the unconventional approaches he revels in definitely do not stop there. For those who loved Cummings’ debut film Thunder Road, the characters within this film are as much at the heart of the story as are the murders that are occurring. Because if Cummings has shown us anything, it’s that he knows how to display three-dimensional characters bursting with personality and showing how they deal with the world around them, even when it’s all falling apart.
It would feel weird to not start by discussing Cummings and his impact on the indie filmmaking scene. Thunder Road was initially a short that got produced into a feature film, and it’s apparent above all else that Cummings has a deep appreciation for filmmaking of all kinds. He champions for artists to get their voices heard by any means, and has a deep understanding of just how difficult it is to be a filmmaker. Yet with Cummings’ two films so far, he makes it seem easy. Cummings has a style that feels so distinct and lived in, it would be shocking to learn that he hasn’t been making movies for years now. In The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Cummings’ John Marshall is already on the verge of a breakdown. We aren’t witnessing a grand buildup, but rather, the straw that broke the camel’s back. It becomes much more tragic as a whole, and leads to a catharsis that feels so earned within such a short runtime.
With a family in shambles and no solace being provided at work, Joe takes it out on anyone and everyone in his path. It’s humorous, and the film definitely leans into this comedy at times, but it’s comedy that stays rooted in the darkness that lurks beneath the town and its residents. Civilians are angry, Joe is angry, his family is angry, and so on and so on. There’s a simple solution in the eyes of the townsfolk: serve the killers’ head on a platter. Yet the small-town police seem to have no leads, and any mention of paranormal activity knowingly sets off Joe’s already short fuse. Even if he would hope to turn to his ailing father, played by the late, truly exceptional Robert Forster in his final role, they seem to be at odds. Not odds of malice, but simply one of sheer stubbornness, a trait that has clearly been passed down from father to son. Forster only has a few scenes, but they are absolutely pivotal and display just how great of a performer he was, making it all the more heartbreaking.
There’s a big notion of true monsters simply being human in this film, and it’s not a notion that’s new to the crime genre, but it does take on a new life in The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Cummings writes purely authentic characters, so hearing these connections between man and beast are genuinely haunting. As brutal as the murders in this film can be, it’s the horrors of reality that become more distinct and vivid as the film progresses. Sometimes, it’s just how people speak to each other, and how they treat strangers. In a year when many clearly cannot seem to come together for the common good of one another, the non-graphic hostilities in this small town are just as painful thematically. It’s a microcosm of a world crumbling, with everybody looking for justice but demanding it swiftly and looking to dish out punishment as soon as possible. It’s justifiable in the sense of searching for a killer, but as we see Joe get repeatedly berated by townsfolk as he falls deeper into his relapse is both painful and utterly tragic.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow has a lot going for it, and it tackles even more within its brisk runtime. It has plenty of comedic flair to make for an interesting tone throughout. It’s a riveting paranormal crime film that sneaks up on you in terms of building dread and suspense. It details a breakdown of a small town and the people within it. And all these elements come together not just throughout the film, but are even channeled through Cummings’ lead performance. It’s a spectacle to behold, and an honor to witness such a confident filmmaker so early in his career. Cummings has spoken to the importance and value of a strong cast and crew, but to see just how much he can juggle within one character should be reason enough to track down this film as soon as you possibly can. It’s perfect for the Halloween season, but will surely be a staple in the crime genre no matter the time of year.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow will release in select theaters and on VOD October 9th, 2020.