That sophomore feature. A daunting prospect for any director, especially when your first outing has made an impact and marked you out as a name to watch. Jim Cummings – actor and writer as well as director – knows only too well. Thunder Road created waves on the indie festival circuit a couple of years ago, with its uniquely painful style of humour earning plaudits on its wider release. But what would come next? The answer arrives with The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, a film that takes him into new territory but where the footprints of that first outing are still there for all to see.
The small town of Snow Hollow in Utah lives up to its name in winter, attracting skiing enthusiasts for weekends away, but it’s hardly what you’d call buzzing. Until one night a visitor is gruesomely murdered, sending the locals into a panic and giving the police a serious problem. Especially when it’s followed by several more, equally bloody, deaths. Trying to get to the truth of the matter is cop John Marshall (Cummings) but, as the body count increases, other pressures are piling up on him – his struggle with alcohol, his ailing father (one of the last on-screen appearances by Robert Forster), his rebellious teenage daughter and his conviction that there’s no way a werewolf could be at large. Even though the murders only take place when the moon is gloriously full.
That we can expect an affectionate horror pastiche is apparent from the opening moments – a landscape that harks back to The Shining, a suspenseful soundtrack sounding like it’s been lifted straight from a B movie and a joyously lurid pawprint in the snow reflecting that glowing moon. As a horror movie, it’s increasingly bloody, there’s a certain amount of suspense and we’re on familiar ground. Cummings knows that full well, relishing that familiarity and those horror tropes, but giving the film a tweak with the addition of a less than sympathetic central character.
With all his problems, volatile temper and misguided conviction that he’s always right, Marshall is reminiscent of Cummings’ character from Thunder Road. Hell, they’re both cops as well. But this time there are moments when you sense the only reason his colleagues put up with his behaviour is because his dad is the sheriff. There are definite laughs to be had as well, from his dismissive one-liners to the sharp, quick fire editing which mixes up the timelines as he tries to figure out the killer’s next move, assuming it has just two legs, of course. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the hero of his own story – even though everybody else can see otherwise.
Essentially an old fashioned werewolf yarn, the familiarity throughout The Wolf Of Snow Hollow is almost comforting – not quite what you’d expect from a horror film. But the “what next?” question looms large for Cummings’ next offering, especially for those who saw Thunder Road. His first two features have been eminently watchable, with their combination of acute discomfort and laughter, but maybe it’s time to explore some new situations and characters ….
Horror, Comedy | Cert: 15 | Warner Brothers | DVD and digital, 14 December 2020 | Dir. Jim Cummings | Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East.