The Wolf of Snow Hollow

If you've ever watched the Coen brothers' Fargo and thought it would be even more awesome if it had a werewolf, then The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a movie you will want to see immediately. Writer/director/actor Jim Cummings made a splash two years ago with the indie Thunder Road. Now he returns with a quirky horror-comedy about law enforcement officials in a snowy Utah town dealing not only with a string of gruesome murders, but also the rumor that it's a werewolf causing the bloodshed.

Cummings plays John Marshall, a divorced, recovering alcoholic cop with an anger management problem. He's first on the scene when a young woman is found slaughtered, her vagina cut out and a paw print in the snow by her side. The boyfriend, PJ (Jimmy Tatro), is quickly ruled out as a suspect. Another victim turns up soon after, killed in similarly grisly fashion. More murders seem imminent.

Marshall grows irritated with his police force for buying into the claims of citizens spotting a 7-foot wolf. He even clashes with his aging father, Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster), over the handling of the case. The only one he generally gets along with is Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome), and that's mostly because she's patient enough to tolerate him. As bodies continue to pile up during the full moon, Marshall struggles to hold himself together while simultaneously working to disprove what he views as a ridiculous theory.

There is a werewolf in The Wolf of Snow Hollow – that's not a spoiler – although the film isn't really in the vein of, say, The Howling. Its focus is more on how the idea of a monster in his town sets off all of Marshall's issues. Cummings often plays the character's frustration for laughs, as the cop is triggered by the most mundane of things. Hard-edged sarcasm is how he reacts -- when he's not screaming, that is. The supporting players all have little eccentricities, making it fun to see how they interact with and/or annoy their high-strung leader. Conversations between the perpetually irritable Marshall and the humorously low-key cops provide a number of big laughs.

That's not to say you won't get some good old fashioned blood and guts. Cummings uses them sparingly yet effectively, and only to drive home the severity of what's happening in the town. Gore additionally serves to underline the central idea in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which is that Marshall is as much a monster as the actual monster. He may not tear off any limbs, but he terrorizes those around him in a manner similar to how the werewolf terrorizes the citizenry. Just as he is appalled by the carnage left behind by the creature, so are those around him appalled by his behavior. Even his own teenage daughter isn't immune from the uncontrolled outbursts. The movie has fun playing with the man/wolfman similarities.

At times, the storytelling in The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a little choppy, and the way the mystery is solved feels a bit contrived. More could have been done to set it up in a way that would have maximized its payoff. Those things are forgivable, though, because the film has enough pleasurably oddball bits to keep you hooked. The look at how damaging toxic personalities can be is well-served by putting it into a horror-comedy format, because we can laugh at how absurd toxic people are and still recognize the fear they instill.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow says something substantial, without ever sacrificing its entertainment value.

out of four

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.