Old habits die hard and it wasn’t too long after our first outing that we got the itchy feet to go out again! The only Korean film playing that we hadn’t seen was a spy thriller (which turned out to have a hilarious Trump stand-in), so I was a little dubious about centering the day around that; Korean thrillers are often good but the more political or historical they get, the harder time we have following them. However, I watched a trailer for another film playing, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, and damned if it didn’t win me over. It’s a werewolf movie written, directed and starring Jim Cummings (best known as the writer, director and star of The Wolf of Snow Hollow), though with an emphasis on the characters involved. Not in a Jarmuschian way, but more like: Hey, these are real people, with real struggles. And a werewolf.
Cummings plays Deputy John Marshall, who views himself as the only sensible guy in the Snow Hollow police department—which, in retrospect, seems a bit oversized—and certainly a great many of his colleagues are goofballs, or minimally less than professional. But John is a wreck: A recovering alcoholic who is also a basket-case over the deteriorating condition of his father the Sheriff, fiercely caustic to his ex-wife, neglectful of his daughter, and with a temper that made us all suspect at some point that he may have been the actual werewolf. He fires people with aplomb. And while he may not go off on wild goose chases, neither does he seem particularly good at his job.
The trouble begins when walking-bro-cliche PJ (Jimmy Tatro, “American Vandal”) brings his beauty-queen girlfriend (Rachel Jane Day) to a cabin in Snow Hollow where she suffers a brutal death and the removal of her lady parts by…something. Is it a man? Is it an animal? I’m not going to tell you because that would spoil it and it’s worth seeing unspoiled.
A brisk eighty minutes and suffers none of the usual werewolf movie malaise. The editing is great, if a little tricky. The editing emphasizes the after-effects of the murders, as John sits in funerals or suffers the indignities of catcalls and abuse. It’s the sort of thing you might find jarring but we got used to it quickly, and it shifts the film more toward what it wants to be, which is a drama with horror overtones. Some unexplained aspects of the story lead me to believe that the editing was perhaps too severe in places.
Of course, when I see a movie about a place that has snow, I want to see lots of beautiful vistas. As a desert dweller, beautiful snowy landscapes are basically a plus one rating, and D of P Natalie Kingston delivers in spades. I can’t imagine the budget on this film was very high—but the editing and filming (and lighting, come to think of it) make it look and feel like a “real” movie, and one that could stand alongside of much, much more expensive films.
But if the technical craftsmanship was great, it is matched by the acting. I’ll talk last about Cummings, and first about the ophidian Riki Lindhome—best known to us as “Garfunkel” from “Garfunkel and Oates” and as the way I taught The Flower what “ophidian” means. Riki plays Julia, John’s partner and is the backbone of the movie. She’s the most professional, and also walking that thin line between trying to keep John from crashing and wrecking his life and keeping him from doing real harm. This is not easy, and like most of the movie’s characters, she’s given some depth and works well with it. The late Robert Forster plays John’s dad, and if he ever turned in a bad performance in his 50 years, this wasn’t it. (In classic character actor style, he has yet another movie coming out this year.)
The smaller roles (Chloe East as the saucy, sassy daughter, the aforementioned Jimmy Tatro, assorted deputies and townsfolk) all have a vitality we’ve come to associate with Asian films. It’s like the actors and the writer (Cummings, as mentioned) took the “no small role” seriously, and everyone plays their role like they’re going to go on after the scene with their own stories and narratives. It raises the film above the usual “this person is an exposition/plot delivery vehicle” fare.
Which brings us to Mr. Cummings himself. In the low-budget world, you get guys who make vanity projects which cast themselves as the (typically action) heroes—Red Letter Media’s “Best of the Worst” has covered a few amazing examples—and there are certain markers of these kinds of projects: A low charisma middle-aged dude, a genuinely hot chick who has to get naked with him at some point, a black tank top showing off a modest musculature. But when actors make movies, what you tend to get is a lot of acting. And Cummings’ cop-on-the-edge (which I believe was also his character in his previous, even-lower-budget film Thunder Road) goes from snarky, to ragey, to nervous-breakdown-grief-y, and even has something like a moment of peace.
This is where The Boy and The Flower split, and a quick glance at the now seldom visited “Rotten Tomatoes” reveals an 88/76 split, critic over audience. They both liked it. But at the end, where we get some character resolution with our troubled sheriff, The Flower would’ve preferred more explication of the Mystery of the Werewolf. She didn’t really care about the sheriff, and it’s undoubtedly the case that he’s a complete asshole from the beginning of the movie to the last few minutes. (She suspects there’s another edit of the film she’d prefer.) Meanwhile, The Boy found that focus refreshing.
I see both their points. As a character study, this movie is quite good. As a mystery, it’s far too thinly fleshed out, so that the reveal is less effective than it could be. And as a metaphor, with the sheriff’s raging id represented by a werewolf—well, it mostly just toys with that idea. We all liked it, though, and that’s saying a lot.