As the end of “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” approached, I was surprised. Timing-wise, I knew we had to be getting there, but the Jim Cummings written/directed/starring feature had gone off on a tangent at some point and it felt no nearer to being able to solve the central whodunit. Still, the fact was staring me right in the face – the end was nigh and I had made a mistake. This movie wasn’t about what I thought this movie was about, but I was equally intrigued by the actual tale as I was about the assumed one.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” focuses on a sheriff, John Marshall (Cummings), trying to track down a serial killer who may or may not be a werewolf. At the same time, he’s dealing with his own alcoholism and anger issues; a teenage daughter, Jenna (Chloe East); and a father (Robert Forster in the final movie he filmed) who is not only in charge of the sheriff’s department, but clearly sick and unwilling to take care of himself. As the movie progresses, it most definitely tiles towards looking at the individuals involved and not the case at hand.
In so many ways, this is a horror comedy. There is a massive wolf-looking thing on the loose, killing people during the full moon. There are scenes of carnage and implications of much more blood and guts that we don’t see. The music and the camera and the lighting all give us the horror angle. Beyond that, there is a skeptical police officer (John) in charge of the investigation. Others in the department definitely feel as though there’s a werewolf about and there’s a comedic tension between John’s trying to disbelieve the preternatural idea and keep it out of the public eye as he, at the same time, starts to believe it himself.
If that was all “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” was, it could be an enjoyable romp, but this movie has something far more sinister at its core. Forgive the silliness of the metaphor, but this thing isn’t about the monster in the woods, it’s about the monster inside the sheriff.
Yes, after setting up the tale of the potential werewolf and making the audience believe, Cummings shifts the movie to focusing not on the murders, but rather John himself. The movie is about the pressures of the job and life getting to John and him falling off the wagon. It is about the destruction alcoholism brings to him and his family and that is deadly serious. We get to see John in some truly awful moments, having to be cared for by those around him as multiple people try to walk on eggshells.
As much as I love the movie shifting from one subject to the other, there are undeniably tonal problems that come with it. A story about a sheriff with an anger problem trying to keep a potential werewolf under wraps can operate, as “Snow Hollow” does, with a comedic bent. A story about a sheriff struggling with alcoholism cannot. John’s anger is played for laughs initially, but John’s anger is inexorably tied to his alcoholism and is no laughing matter. There is something wrong in making it a joke at the front of the movie, even if John isn’t drinking at that point. In retrospect, the laugh is a bad one. It all then becomes that much more troubling when Jenna’s anger shows through and we have to wonder where she will head in years to come.
Whether any single moment is played for laughs or drama, the entire cast here, which also includes Riki Lindhome as another member of the sheriff’s department, is great. Forster, in his final role, delivers an increasingly frail strong man who knows that he’s got far less life in front of him than behind, but simply isn’t willing to go quietly into retirement. Both Cummings and East give us memorable moments as they explore the depths of the issues before them and there is more than one heartbreaking scene.
It would be all too easy and more than a little silly to close this review by suggesting that there is a real question about just who the monster is in Snow Hollow. However, just as in the real world, two things can be true simultaneously – it is possible for there to be more than one demon in town. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” isn’t always successful in shifting between the stories of these two evils, but both are stories worth telling and both are told well. Having watched it once without knowing where it was headed, I am now exceptionally interested in watching it again with that added insight.
photo credit: Orion Classics