REVIEW: Jim Cummings is Back With a Bite in ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a glorious melting pot of opposing genres, excellent performances and grisly murders”

Jim Cummings, the multi-hyphenate creator behind 2018’s Thunder Road, is back on screen as my favourite stressed-out small-town cop in The Wolf of Snow Hollow. This time Cummings trades the heartland for the slopes of Utah as a ski town is terrorised by a beastly killer.

I don’t want to come away from Snow Hollow solely talking about its creator – there is so much to love about his films, even outside of Cummings’ personal control – however it would be a crime to ignore his direct impact. You always know when you’re watching one of his movies, even when he’s not on screen. The tightly-wound, violent energy and the spiralling personal drama coexist in ways I’ve not experienced outside of Cummings’ oeuvre. What’s more, these films are comedies! And very funny ones at that.

Much of the humour doesn’t come in the form of an explicit joke. More often it takes the shape of a frazzled tirade, an unfortunate jump-cut or dramatic reveal capped with an anticlimactic sucking of teeth. These moments landed for me at a higher rate than the more formulaic jokes, which isn’t to say that the jokes weren’t funny, more that they upset the delicate balance of genre to a greater extent than the camouflaged gags.

Thunder Road’s popularity grew from its debut at Sundance where it was introduced as a 12-minute long-take monologue that would go on to form the feature’s opening scene. The ample and debatably excessive use of long takes and monologues remain in the feature version, and both techniques can be found once again in Snow Hollow, this time with a more tempered hand.

Jim Cummings ‘ Officer Jim Arnaud stands shakily at his mother’s funeral
Jim Cummings in the Thunder Road short film. Image courtesy of Film Shortage.

This is to Snow Hollow’s benefit. Cummings’ signature cinematic choices are where his films shine brightest, but an over–reliance on a specific technique risks detracting from the overall impact of individual scenes. Long-takes and monologues are ways of emphasising moments, like emboldening or italicising words on a page. Snow Hollow greatly hones this style, restricting emphasis to where it’s required and allowing the substance, comedy and trauma of a scene to shine through undistracted.

I don’t consider myself especially qualified to critique the finer details of filmmaking (I’m more interested in story and structure) however to my eye the cinematography by Natalie Kingston was wonderful, somehow making the wide-open expanses of Utah seem like the most claustrophobic town on the planet, perfectly symbolising the crisis facing Cummings’ Officer Marshall and the counterintuitive pressures of small-town policing.

The acting is great across the board. Cummings will likely receive a monopoly of this praise and for good reason, however the most impressive aspect was how well rounded the cast was. Riki Lindhome was a stand-out star for me. Playing officer Julia Robson, Lindhome exudes kindness and stability – the perfect counterweight to Cummings’ spiralling and often harmful Officer John Marshall.

The great Robert Forster stars as the ailing Sheriff Hadley – father of John Marshall. Their on-screen relationship was extremely vivid and warm, full of all the concern, bravery, denial and heartache that will feel all too familiar to anyone who has seen a parent or grandparent at war with their bodies in later life. Forster appears posthumously, having sadly passed away due to brain cancer in 2019. His final role in this film, which is dedicated to his memory, serves as some approximation of a goodbye for the millions who have long enjoyed his warmth and dedication to his craft.

Robert Forster’s Sheriff Hadley sits, worried, at his desk.
The late Robert Forster as Sheriff Hadley. Image courtesy of Bloody Disgusting.

The fact that Cummings not only holds his own opposite Forster but regularly steals the scene, is a testament to his skill as a dramatic actor. He absolutely dominates the space he occupies, moving through scenes like a tornado on its path to something hilarious, disastrous or, more likely, both.

A harsher critic might get hung up on the idea that his character in Snow Hollow is almost an exact copy of his role in Thunder Road, but I am not that critic. I can’t find it in myself to worry too much over that detail; not when he plays the character so well. For what it’s worth, I don’t think range is an issue – both characters contain multitudes and test the limits of Cummings’ abilities, though I would like to see him step out of his comfort zone in future projects.

Summing up my feelings on Snow Hollow, I have to say I found it extremely enjoyable from top to bottom. Cummings is endlessly watchable, and the seamless blending of horror and comedy makes for perfect Halloween viewing. Whilst I would say I preferred Thunder Road’s story, Snow Hollow signals the honing of a talent which was already one of the most exciting in the game. I very much look forward to what comes next.

Dir: Jim Cummings

Prod: Kathleen Grace, Matt Hoklotubbe, Michael J. McGarry, Natlie Metzger, Matt Miller & Benjamin Wiessner

Cast: Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro

Release Date: October 9th 2020