Director: Jim Cummings
I'm going to have to check out Jim Cummings' other stuff, because he's apparently his own one-man force within the film industry. I recognize him, but not as a lead - but he wrote, directed and starred in Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), which is something people really don't do anymore. That era of auteurism has kind of gone the way of the dodo.
Released under the revived Orion films banner (and, my god, was it good to see that logo spin out in front of a movie again) - it's also nice to see genre indie distributors out there trying for something a bit different, and this film is a reminder of the positive results you can get from a single person with their hands on the wheel of a movie. Because Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) is arguably about a small-town cop relentlessly chasing down a killer werewolf despite the fact that is absolutely the plot of the film. And this is where people might mistakenly say "it's good for a horror film" - but we don't say that at this blog.
I think sometimes why reviewers might make that statement is that they want something more out of their movie than a monster murdering people and eventually being killed in return. I mean, *fair enough*.
Fortunately for those reviewers, this film is really a study of a guy just hitting middle-age who has a piece of work of an ex-wife, a daughter who doesn't like him, a father/ boss/ the Sheriff (Robert Forster - still powerful in one of his final roles) who is refusing both to retire nor to deal with his looming health problems. Since his dad can't do it anymore, those duties are falling on our lead's shoulders. And his fellow officers see absolutely no reason to take him seriously or listen to him. Which is funny except when it's not.
And - Jim Cumming's character, John, is both a rage-a-holic and an alcoholic, a few years sober. If anyone understands a monster inside, it's John.
The movie has some curious tonal choices. Sometimes moments are played for comedy, other times for tragedy - or at least straight. The murders and victims are mostly treated straight, but Cummings has an ear for how easily stray comments and the community response to tragedy are unhelpful or harmful. And - especially - an eye for faulty group dynamics. (At some point, Jamie turned and asked if that's how I felt as a manager, and I was like "well, on the inside".)
Other co-stars include Chloe East, John's daughter who cannot *wait* to leave for college and get away from her folks. Jimmy Tatro appears as the S.O. of a victim. And, someone who I think is always good, but seems to fly under the radar - Riki Lindhome plays John's fellow officer who is actually... competent. And, once again - she's really solid and her character's arc is kind of fascinating - and I tip my hat to she and Cummings for making that work.
This is a horror movie, and there will be blood. I appreciate the restraint shown by Cummings in what he did and didn't show (this isn't a splatter movie), and that they treat each death like a tragedy instead of a personal slight (except for how John takes it, obvs). The look of the werewolf is surprisingly good when I'm not sure it needed to be. And I found the resolution with the werewolf 150% satisfying.
I don't think this movie will be universally beloved by either mainstream or horror audiences. It's not any one thing, but it is interesting in a "what are indie movies doing these days?" kind of way. And, hey, I give it the Signal Watch Seal of Approval. I can be the guy who went to bat for it.
Anyway - it's a nice addition to the Christmas indie horror pantheon, and maybe a little more developed, character-wise, than some of them. If you've got an open night and want a break from Hallmark movies: recommended.