[Beyond Fest Review] 'The Wolf of Snow Hollow' Melts Under Overheated Characters and Undercooked Plot Points
Throughout history, the werewolf has always been the perfect creature for discussing the darker sides of human beings…
…Initially looked at through a sympathetic lens with films like Universal’s The Wolf Man, and later throwing in examples of murderous creatures embracing their hunger like in The Howling, the werewolf has seen a whole range of types. But one thing is always the same, and that is that these creatures are used to reveal our more primal sides. The rage. The ugly cravings. And an insatiable lust. Writer/director Jim Cummings’ new film, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which just made its World Premiere at Beyond Fest, takes that convention and throws it into the modern world, but in ways that don’t quite satisfy the craving it sets out to quench.
Taking place in a mountain town with mountain skiing and people that are mountainous in a variety of ways, The Wolf of Snow Hollow follows John (played by Cummings), a divorced, recovering alcoholic constantly on the verge of bursting like an overheated thermometer, stressed over his life as a cop, as a father, and as a son, in the midst of struggling to get his dad, Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster), to retire over concerns of a heart issue. John’s life doesn’t get any less stressful when murders suddenly start popping up around town, leaving bodies behind that could only have been killed by an animal…a big one.
I feel you, John. 2020 sure has been a number on us all.
But that’s also the thing that is immediately off-putting about The Wolf of Snow Hollow.
The film opens peacefully, the camera sweeping over gorgeous, snow-covered mountaintops and uncovering a small, quiet town not ready for the horror it’s about to experience. The vast landscapes surrounding Snow Hollow set the stage for the film’s theme of crushing loneliness, which practically oozes out of every poor of John’s booze-craving body. A full moon hanging in the cold sky. Clean white snow about to be stained with blood. It’s the perfect setting for a werewolf film.
And then we meet John.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is meant to be a horror comedy (it has its moments), and I imagine the comedic element is supposed to come from John. Nearly 90% of John’s lines are one note: angry. In every moment with John, the man is either shouting, demeaning someone, shouting while demeaning someone, sobbing uncontrollably, and just being an all-around dick. That’s not saying the man doesn’t have reason to be upset. He’s clearly suffering, and I don’t want to knock a guy going through a mental breakdown. But that’s a hard character to get the audience to like, and an even more difficult character to get laughs.
Being loud and angry doesn’t by itself make a character funny. Look at the late Chris Farley in Black Sheep. He’s hilarious when he goes to 11, but part of that is because we also sympathize with his character, since there’s something puppy-doggish and charming about him. But John is no puppy dog, and he has three figures in his life to constantly remind us of that. Of course, the Sheriff, who John screams at (not good for a dad with a bad heart), his daughter, Jenna (Chloe East), who he never fails to take his anger out on, and the much smarter and well put together officer Julia (Riki Lindhorne), who he ignores whenever he can, clearly threatened by the idea of a woman coming for his job. John’s interactions with all of them only give us more reason to dislike the guy, because try as Cummings might, and he is a good actor, John isn’t given enough moments for us to care about his problems. Instead, I kept rooting for Julia to get the recognition she deserves, though she’s never treated as more than a side-character. Julia at one point tells John, “you’re making everybody miserable,” and god, I could not agree more.
As for the werewolf of it all, The Wolf of Snow Hollow attacks the beast from an interesting angle that I won’t spoil here, with a theme that relates right back to the primality of man and an issue as old as time: toxic masculinity. When we first meet John during AA, he talks of not letting the monster inside of you out, and it’s an obvious theme playing through the film. We soon learn that the werewolf has a habit of attacking young blonds around the same age, and taking parts as trophies, some of them more private than others. Coupled with John’s anger issues and mistreatment of women, a bar fight over some white dudes using derogatory terms and the word “bitch” occasionally thrown around, Cummings is trying to say something about the predatory way that men stalk the world. The problem is it often feels as if the film is trying too hard, such as when John makes a comment about how it’s always women that are murdered in this way, and utters to Julia, “you think women have been going through this since the Middle Ages?”
No shit, John!
Toxic masculinity deserves to be called out, and it’s great we’re discussing it more in our horror films. Some films though, like the recent Scare Me, do this with elegance. Others, like Snow Hollow, shove our dirty snouts in it until we’ve learned our lesson. Both work, but one is more engaging than the other.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow also drops the ball where it matters most: the werewolf. The creature itself is an impressive beast, hulking at what has to be at least eight-ten feet tall, and best of all, it’s all done with a guy in a suit. The thing savages its victims with a fearsome intensity, accompanied by excellent sound design that booms and roars and gives the monstrous lycan a heavy weight that should shock viewers. I say should, because instead of letting moments of terror build, the editing bursts in like the Kool-aid guy and pulls us out of the attack to a scene or two taking place in the future, then cuts back and forth between those and the kill. The Wolf of Snow Hollow does this for every murder, and it 100% of the time took me out of the moment, and made me wonder what cutting it like this was adding. The Wolf of Snow Hollow will give you horror blue balls, because every time the film is about to get your vocal cords screaming, it laughs, says just kidding, and runs away.
And while I would love to say that The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an enticing mystery that will have you guessing until the very end, the only reason that might be true is because there are so few breadcrumbs leading to the answer, that the reveal is more of a shrug than that exciting realization of “I knew it!” that other films like this offer.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a frustrating experience. The filmmakers and cast are talented. The creature has an intimidating presence. And the setting is superb. But with a hero I’m actively rooting against and plot points that feel like they’re missing in the snow, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is as messy as the bodies being left behind by the big bad wolf.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow comes to theaters and VOD October 9th from Orion Classics.
By Matt Konopka