Writer/Director/Star Jim Cummings Brings a Unique Voice
Nobody is doing it quite like Jim Cummings is doing it.
As the triple threat writer/director/star of The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, Cummings is actually taking a step BACK from the number of hats he wore in the making of his last film Thunder Road (where he also edited and even composed). So sure, he’s a “DIY” kind of guy. And this is an important component to the career he’s carving out for himself and the body of work he’s creating. I’ve followed him on social media over the last couple of years and he’s a highly collaborative, innovative, crowd-sourcing filmmaker looking to use new tools to create films in a grassroots manner. I like all of that as an indie cinema fan and someone who’s fascinated with the indomitable spirit that is required to make art in a capitalist system that often doesn’t value creation for creation’s sake. And if that was where Jim Cummings’ schtick ended, I’d likely still be a fan of that spirit of collaboration.
But it’s the movies themselves that really speak.
Thunder Road depicted the “warts and all” collapse of a man’s life and career with such a rawness that you couldn’t help but wonder about Cummings: Who is this guy? Simultaneously funny and gut-wrenching, you watch Thunder Road the same way you watch a trainwreck. It plays out slowly and painfully before your eyes, and you’re powerless to stop it. Cummings seemingly relies on no pride or ego when portraying his characters, but rather thrives on laying them bare on the screen for all to see. Cummings’ characters are unlikeable, or perhaps pathetic… but they’re also so vulnerable as to present themselves as open wounds to other characters and to the audience.
The Wolf Of Snow Hollow stands out as a totally unique film from Thunder Road, but one could almost simultaneously see it as a riff on that film, or perhaps an experiment in character study where Officer Jim Arnaud from Thunder Road somehow ports over to being John Marshall, a cop in Snow Hollow, Utah. It’s not a criticism that Cummings is portraying a spiraling out of control cop in both films, but it should be noted as an interesting observation. Perhaps there’d be something to criticise about this similarity in dramatic thrust between the two films if Cummings didn’t A) make both narrative arcs hugely compelling and B) make one of them also a werewolf movie.
In many ways I’m a boringly mainstream film lover in that I highly weigh my own level of satisfaction in my estimation of a film. I’m easily frustrated by a lack of narrative as well. Wolf Of Snow Hollow manages to be hugely satisfying as a vulnerable drama, a bleak comedy, and a thrilling werewolf police procedural all in one. And the varying genres at play here coalesce wonderfully to create a satisfying narrative largely anchored by Cummings’ writing and performance.
Women are turning up murdered in the sleepy ski town of Snow Hollow. Cummings’ John Marshall is on the case and really wants to tackle this huge assignment to prove himself in the eyes of his physically ailing and soon retiring father Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster in a fantastic final screen role. May his legend live forever). And so a few of our primary points of tension begin. John is a 3 years sober alcoholic who’s got an acrimonious relationship with his ex-wife and clear tension with his daughter Jenna (Chloe East), who is off to college soon. He’s in a bad place when the murders begin, and the crushing pressure he feels to prove himself will lead to his undoing. But in the meantime what does indeed appear to be a werewolf just keeps murdering folks. As a matter of fact, the audience is shown the werewolf in fleeting glances, which is glorious both because the practical creature design looks fantastic and because it constantly keeps us questioning the kind of film we’re watching. Is this really a monster movie? Because it feels pretty grounded and markedly UN-fantastical otherwise.
And in Cummings’ now signature style, it’s not going to take a werewolf’s claws or fangs to tear John Marshall apart in a public and humiliating fashion. No, he’s going to take care of that himself. And thus another masterful element of the film plays out as Cummings walks a tightrope of bearing the soul of his lead character to the audience and trusting that, while Marshall is often pathetic and desperate, he’s also so vulnerable that he at least convinces the audience to root for him even if it never quite convinces us we have to like him. All of this builds to an incredible crescendo in which the case is solved-ish (no spoilers here) at precisely the same moment that Marshall hits some kind of rock bottom. It’s not a story of redemption, per se. Nor does it ask us to walk a mile in Marshall’s shoes in order to create sympathy for a toxic and wounded straight white male. It just bares the soul of a human before our eyes, drops that human into a manhunt for a werewolf, and manages to occasionally make us laugh out loud in the process.
Attention must also be paid to the editing (Patrick Nelson Barnes & R. Brett Thomas) and direction of this tonal tightrope of a film as well. The visual depiction of John’s alcoholism is quite stunning and memorable as the pressure begins to tempt him out of sobriety and as he crashes headlong into relapse. There’s a momentum and propulsion that creates not just a main character but an entire film that is simply careening towards its final act that’s at once reckless and ill-advised, but intentional and distinct.
Jim Cummings may not be for everyone. He’s created such a unique style with this film, and depicts a raw but occasionally loathsome character to anchor it around. Wrap that up in a frankly awesome monster movie genre complete with incredible practical monster and gore effects, and you’ve got a movie that appears to be tailor made to my tastes, but may alienate many others. But for as satisfying as the film is, which I’ve mentioned is important for me, it also carves out its own voice and stands out from the crowd as well. This kind of thing is important to someone like me who’s seen countless monster movies and countless self-destruction films as well. For Cummings to come along and make something this fascinating and this distinct amidst this well-trodden of a genre truly speaks volumes.
Frankly, I believe this film looks absolutely gorgeous. The mountainous ski town creates a crushing isolation and vast beauty all at once. And werewolf attacks and crime scene sequences all have a visual flair to them that even further sets this film apart. I’d argue that owning this film on Blu-ray (or at least in Digital HD) is something curious viewers are going to want to pay for. The bonus features are minimal, four brief featurettes, but they’re appreciated. As Cummings is such a distinct and multi-faceted talent, a commentary track from him would have been very much appreciated in this release.
And I’m Out.
The Wolf Of Snow Hollow is now available on Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD from Orion Classics and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.