As the full moon rises and retreats over a snow-kissed small town, THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW strikes again as we witness the local police department maneuver through it’s contained, humble family precinct politics and psychological labyrinths, revealing the beasts that manifest through the forests of life under the cover of darkness.
Jim Cumming’s sophomore vessel as a writer-director begins with two familiar images in the lore of cinema: An Orion pictures snipe, the warmth of the original film print intact, and landscapes of the snow-covered, sometimes upside-down mountains overlapping each other. This movie shines from the very beginning but the familiarity ends here. What takes over is a pure unabashed venture, through seamless genre bending and bold blistering melodrama, sprinkled with some of the most gut-busting genuine comedy I’ve seen in a movie since THUNDER ROAD. The first time we meet our protagonist, we are with him in a local AA meeting, listening to his humble introduction and meandering into maniacal but relatable anxiety inducing projected trauma, almost beginning to think to ourselves: what are our worst thoughts when we are in the blizzard of whatever ails us, physically and emotionally?
The performances from Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome and Robert Forester (this being his final acting role) are played with simplicity and honesty that play well scene-to-scene through various vibe changes. Though the feeling of the film may be jarring to your boisterous layman who may or may not be lost in excitement for the pandemic to be over with so we can finally watch more marvel movies and remakes in the stale-aired cineplexes, what is communicated here is something deeply haunting and endearing, hailing from the dark side of the moon. We all howl at what makes our lives complicated, individually, symbolically and systematically, but it takes a clarity and a refined bravery to step by step, encounter and confront the weasely suspect within.
Cumming’s character, being a police officer, living under the warm shadow of his police chief father (Forester) at the beginning of the murders, is also going through raising a child through a divorce and now sending off his only daughter to college. The bitterness she feels towards him, potentially through the looking glass of her scathing mother, burns our protagonist like the bitter burning touch of frostbite. The mother’s sharp maternal tongue lashings at their forced meetings to discuss logistics of divorced parenting is met with restrained aggression that Cummings also projects onto the modus operandi of the Snow Hollow Police department. Lines like “If you want people to stop talking shit about the police, do better police work,” ring just shy of being heavy handed. Instead they are handled in a graceful way that reaches out to the millions of marginalized silent majority that are sick and tired of bureaucratic agencies leaning on the complexity of the machination to not only grow their budgets year by year with militarized equipment and vehicles, but literally get away with murder.
Though the literal wolf stalks the town, it’s the monsters inside of the characters within this film that are most salient in the glow of the silver screen. The auteur boldy gives us what we think are clues, here and there, and lovingly leaves it up to the viewer, respecting the intelligence of whoever steps into this picture as a witness, to decide who is the prime suspect and how we go about the hunt. What complicates the cop procedural is the transformation of our main character when he’s beaten down by failure to rise up and catch the criminal, stopping the violence in the town. He resorts to his old friend, hooch, and becomes wreckless in his unpredictable spells of beastly violence. Addiction and dependency can turn the best of us into the monsters we all grew up fearing. The town catches a prime suspect and that’s that…or so we think.
As the film progresses, so does the holiday season, and what was a hard-boiled cop procedural comedic hard-boiled melodrama, suddenly turns into a holiday spirited romp with the one true beast in the third act. Will our protagonist succeed? In the film and as a director? I’m howling at the freezing moon to find out. Definitely a five-bagger.