John Marshall (Jim Cummings) has a lot on his plate.
He’s a recovering alcoholic with some pretty significant rage issues. He navigating (unsuccessfully) a post-divorce relationship with his teenage daughter Jenna (Chloe East). His father (Robert Forster, in his final role) is the Sheriff of Snow Hollow, but the old man refuses to relinquish control to John despite significant health problems.
Oh yeah, and there’s a werewolf killing women every full moon in the sleepy tourist town.
On paper, Cummings’ new film (in addition to starring, he’s also the screenwriter and director) seems like a slam dunk. There’s plenty of comedy to be mined from a bumbling police department who are in over their heads investigating a supernatural force, and there’s always something satisfying about seeing a spray of blood across fresh white powder.
Cummings’ direction is quite strong. The violence, in particular, is filmed well; these sequences frequently hint at, rather than show outright, the attacks on women. The murders are presented non-chronologically, so the bodies are discovered and then the action is intercut with the aftermath. It’s an unusual choice that robs the attack sequences of any suspense because the outcome is already known, but it works well to alter the rhythm and flow of the narrative. This helpfully distinguishes The Wolf of Snow Hollow from more conventional procedural films.
The issue is that the film is primarily a character study of John Marshall: a hyper aggressive man who is prone to making irrationally loud verbal outbursts. There’s a very clear, discernible arc over the course of the film as John becomes less of an unlikeable asshat and more of an understanding father and co-worker, but fully half of the film is Cummings screaming himself red in the face at members of Snow Hollow’s police force, his ex-wife, his daughter and anyone else in his general proximity.
Problematically, Cummings’ script mistakes John’s outbursts as comedy, frequently leaning into the character’s bad behaviour. Several other reviews have aligned this with the Coens’ early work, which emphasizes the ridiculousness of everyday people caught in extraordinary – and often violent – situations. That DNA is present, certainly, but Cummings’ performance is so one dimensional and repetitive that the schtick gets old very, very quickly. And since The Wolf of Snow Hollow isn’t interested in fleshing out any of its strong supporting cast, the audience is more or less stuck at the mercy of John’s temper.
Patient viewers will see this behaviour flatten out as the film proceeds and the second half, which affords Riki Lindhome’s Officer Julia Robson and East a bit more screen time while also complicating the mystery of the rampaging 7 foot tall wolf, is more palatable. Still, there’s no shortage of hubris in how Cummings’ multiple hats on the production results in a singularly focused film about one insufferably bad character.
There’s a stronger film lurking in The Wolf of Snow Hollow; one that features both female characters in a greater capacity or one where Cummings scaled back his off-putting performance. Unfortunately that’s not the film that Cummings made.
The result is a misfire that conflates screaming with comedy and prioritizes the arc of its unlikeable protagonist over the other interesting characters. The Wolf of Snow Hollow isn’t a disaster by any stretch: it’s eminently watchable and well-directed, but it also fundamentally misunderstands what its best assets are. And that’s a bloody shame.