Jim Cummings has been busy. Hot off the success of his crowdfunded black comedy Thunder Road, the writer-director found himself pitching his next picture to Orion Classics while his previous effort was still receiving rave reviews. Six months later, he and his crew were deep in the Colorado snow shooting The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a horror-dramedy that meshes the classic werewolf formula with Cummings’ evolving brand of cynical humour, misdirection, and emotionally charged characters. Not content with his role as writer, director, and star, Cummings also found time on set (and in full costume) to kick off another fan investment project, The Beta Test, which is due out next year once completed from the sanctuary of his garage.
READ MORE: To Your Last Death – Film Review
When bodies start showing up in increasingly suspicious circumstances after each full moon, a sceptical sheriff’s deputy, John Marshall (Cummings), tries desperately to convince his quiet mountain town that there’s no such thing as werewolves. As expected, it doesn’t take long for the script to light up with the same twisted comedic tone employed by Cummings on Thunder Road. This time around his lawman is a barely recovering alcoholic, wrestling his werewolf-theorising partner (Riki Lindhome), ailing father-cum-sheriff (the late, great Robert Forster), and distant teenage daughter (Chloe East) in an effort to assert authority as both the case and his life crumble around him.
What stands out from the start in The Wolf of Snow Hollow is the quality of Cummings’ writing. His sharp dialogue flexes and switches, engaging in tense and effective drama one moment before dripping with subtle parody the next. As the traditional slasher structure threatens to take hold, Cummings takes the opportunity to utilise moments of genuine horror without leaning fully into the genre, instead allowing the human drama to develop while simultaneously riffing on David Fincher all the way through to Alan Partridge. Cummings favours character comedy in-tune with society’s darkening nature, established here through a layered style that pays off consistently as we pursue the town’s mythical slayer.
Clearly developing a penchant for writing and playing deeply flawed characters, Cummings kills it as Marshall, demonstrating his dramatic chops, easy comedic timing, and willingness to dial it up in the name of a hearty laugh laced with anxiety. Backing him up to the full is his supporting cast. Lindhome’s ever-professional, somehow straight-faced Officer Robson is the perfect foil for Cummings’ outbursts, while Forster’s Sheriff Hadley conspires to steal every scene he’s in with a gloriously exhausted performance chock-full of one-liners. Forster’s knack for savage deadpan delivery seemed to get better with age, and at 77 he certainly still had it. Fittingly, the film will be released just shy of a year following his death from cancer.
Armed with a studio budget to complement his usual core production team, Cummings anose cinematographer Natalie Kingston craft a moody reel no doubt influenced by the likes of Zodiac and Seven. Cummings is a talented director who, having benefited from doing everything himself on the short film circuit leading up to Thunder Road, raises his own bar on The Wolf of Snow Hollow with an array of cool shots that show off both his technical skill and creative flair. It is one of those films that just looks good, with a visual style designed to deliberately influence its tone. Coming in over the top is Ben Lovett’s crunching score, which brings together the first original music used by Cummings on one of his projects. With a particularly strong first half, the score acts as the final cog that kicks the film into gear.
If Thunder Road brought Jim Cummings to our attention, The Wolf of Snow Hollow confirms that he has the potential to stick around for a long time, either as a purely independent or studio-backed filmmaker. With the rare capacity to do it all behind and in front of the camera, he remains one to watch.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is out on VOD on 9th October.