If you wanted to, you could view the “Horror Vs. Thriller” debate about The Silence of the Lambs to be a testament to the movie’s power. If it’s a horror movie, it’s paced as well as the best of thrillers. If it’s a thriller, then it’s one of the most horrifying in existence. Once you take this view (and escape the hordes of Film Twitter crying out for your blood), the fact that the debate exists means the movie is either a seamless blend of the genres or so brilliant that it defies those genres entirely. That’s a hell of a feat, and it is one that The Wolf of Snow Hollow pulls off gloriously.
The titular town of Snow Hollow is beset by a series of horrifying crimes, and all clues point to a killer with a man’s brain and wolf’s physique. Leading up the investigation is Deputy John Marshall (played by writer/director Jim Cummings), a recovering alcoholic and trying-his-best father to a teenage girl. On top of handling the most brutal events ever seen in his little Utah town, John must deal with a populace that’s losing faith in him, a police force that’s growing more superstitious by the minute, and a crushing sense of self-doubt. Fortunately, John is joined by his father, Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster) and Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome), who offer John confidence when he can’t find any of his own. Still, no amount of faith in John will change the fact that his moment to catch this elusive killer is waning… and the full moon is anything but.
Though Wolf of Snow Hollow is one of the best werewolf movies in recent memory, it’s largely absent of werewolf tropes. There are no chases through misty moors, melting down of weaponized silvers, or gruesome transformation scenes. No, this movie shares a lot more DNA with a small-town crime drama; you’ll find more Fargo here than fang. But it’s this unique take on the werewolf genre that makes this film such a great entry. Following the story as a police procedural gives us a very logical, though seldomly seen, perspective on how the actual events of a werewolf attack would play out. By not revealing the werewolf’s identity from the very beginning, the audience audience gets to experience mystery as well as terror during every sighting of the beast. And if that’s not enough, there’s enough genuine humor in the movie to make our genre debaters consider the possibility that this is a dark comedy most of all.
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“Though The Wolf of Snow Hollow is one of the best werewolf movies in recent memory, it’s largely absent of werewolf tropes.”
Folks on the “thriller” side of that debate will probably point to the cast’s performances as evidence for their point, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Like any good crime thriller, a lot of this movie’s drama comes from getting deep into the psyche of the characters. With characters as fleshed-out as these, that drama is well earned. In particular, Jim Cummings absolutely captivates as John. Every last aspect of this guy’s life is falling apart, from his family relationships to his career to his own struggle with addiction, and Cummings brings every ounce of that pain onto the screen. It’s like watching a building collapse; horrifying, traumatic, but absolutely impossible to turn away from.
Playing opposite Cummings, Riki Lindhome handles trauma differently as Officer Julia. As the coolest head in the movie, Julia can’t afford to have the breakdown that John has, or all their hope would truly be lost. Watching Lindhome encounter so many scenarios that make her want to break down, only to swallow them up and soldier on, is just as impactful as watching John absolutely lose it. And speaking of impactful performances, audiences will no doubt be moved by Robert Forster, playing the stubbornly optimistic Sheriff Hadley. Not only does Forster do an excellent job playing an old soul, unused to this type of violence, but The Wolf of Snow Hollow was Forster’s last film performance before his death in October of 2019. It’s bittersweet watching Forster in this movie; you are reminded both that he is gone and of why he’ll be remembered.
While the residents of Snow Hollow might make for a convincing “thriller” argument, its Wolf aspect begs to be in the horror camp. Again, this movie reverses a common werewolf trope, this time by showing the monster before the final act. And though that might not be what the average horror fan expects, it certainly won’t let them down. This monster design incorporates the best elements of werewolf designs past into one visually striking killer. It is tall without looking gangly, thick without looking like a bodybuilder. And the best part? It’s done entirely through practical effects. Yes, designers Lauren Wilde and Michael Yale laid every last hair on a giant, 100% real werewolf suit for a performer to act in, painstakingly paying tribute to the best lycanthropes of the past, and adding a aesthetically brilliant layer of terror to an already pulse-pounding film.
So, was The Wolf of Snow Hollow a thriller or horror? Was it neither, or both? Honestly, you may want to stay out of the argument, as this movie is good enough for both camps to want to fiercely claim as their own. I’m my opinion, it’s a toss up. The Wolf of Snow Hollow did all of its horror elements well; it did all of its thriller elements well. Still, if I came across horror fans and thriller fans debating The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I definitely wouldn’t stop them. This movie is worth talking about.
“Jim Cummings[‘s performance] as John [… is] like watching a building collapse; horrifying, traumatic, but absolutely impossible to turn away from.”
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is out now on VOD, and I can’t recommend watching it enough. Once you do, let us know what you think over on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Give us a follow too; you don’t want to miss our upcoming interview with director Jim Cummings. And for all your horror movie reviews and interviews, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.