It’s fitting that a director so steeped in genre fare should veer so spectacularly in style for his blood-soaked and blackly comic neo noir crime drama.
Jim Mickle’s back catalogue may fall firmly within the bracket of horror, but his films are rarely so black and white. His 2006 debut Mulberry Street is stripped back claustrophobic filmmaking with an edge, while his fang-tastic follow-up Stake Land (2010) is a mash-up of gothic vampire chiller, end-of-the-world drama and tobacco-chewing western.
His remake of the Mexican movie We Are What We Are (2013), meanwhile, may ostensibly be an oppresive horror flick, but is also soaked in religious satire.
Mickle once again reteams with co-writer Nick Damici for this adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s novel which is three movies in one – part Coen-esque noir akin to Blood Simple or John Dahl’s Red Rock West; part comedy more befitting of Lansdale’s other big screen adaptation Bubba Ho-Tep (minus Elvis); and part comic book drama that puts the ‘graphic’ in graphic novel.
Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, an everyday guy who shoots dead an unarmed intruder in his home. While gaining a new-found respect among his redneck Texan townsfolk, Richard doesn’t count on the intruder’s jail-bird father Ben (Sam Shepard), who’s just been released on parole. Ben goes after Richard and his family in search of revenge, but neither one is prepared for what comes next.
Mickle diligently sticks to the novel’s late-80s setting, right down to Jeff Grace’s brilliantly suspenseful synth score that unapologetically lifts from John Carpenter’s best efforts.
Hall, who’s been playing a serial killer on cable television for the better part of the last decade, inhabits the role of a man whose initial shock and disgust at the act of violence he’s responsible for slowly gives way to a more disturbing familiarity and collusion. He also sports a haircut that only someone in 1989 Texas could, or should have.
Cold In July‘s excellent opening act (which the rest of the film falls short of matching) sets an uneasy tone as Richard and his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) struggle to come to terms with the consequences of a home invasion that has a shocking ending and an unwanted impact on their otherwise stable family life. The introduction of Shepard’s grizzled and cold-eyed Ben cranks up the tension before the film takes an intriguing and light-hearted turn half way through when Don Johnson’s colourful private eye Jim Bob Luke turns up in a red Cadillac with bull horns on the radiator and a ‘RED BTCH’ license plate.
Old acquaintances with a mutual taste for violence they may be, but Jim Bob and Ben are chalk and cheese in their demeanour. Ben is the sort of bottled up sociopath Shepard has excelled at in his autumn years, while Johnson’s more flamboyant, stetson-wearing wannabe cowboy is similar to the charismatic roles he’s played of late in the likes of Django Unchained and HBO’s Eastbound And Down.
Sandwiched between these elder statesmen is Hall, who more than carries his own in a role that demands a subtle character shift and a growing intimacy with the way of the gun.
The shift in tone may not suit everyone’s tastes, but Cold In July earns its plaudits with a well-told tale that’s as solid as its leading trio.