Cold in July (2014)

Cold in July is the fourth feature from writer / director Jim Mickle and writer Nick Damici, having previously brought us Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street, Stake Land and We Are What We Are. Much like their previous work, this is very different from what came before it – this time a dark, dramatic thriller.

Based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale (who – incidentally – also wrote the short story that spawned Bubba Ho Tep), Cold in July is about one man’s journey from timid householder to revenge-fuelled killer. It is dark, twisting, beautifully made and very well acted.

When Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) shoots a burglar in his house, he doesn’t realise that this one itchy-trigger incident would lead him on a dark and demented path from safety to violence.

After killing the intruder, Richard finds himself under scrutiny from the perp’s father (Sam Shepherd), who decides to enact some old-fashioned vengeance on the gentle homeowner, Cape Fear-style. But things take a bizarre, conspiratorial twist that leads Richard – and the audience – into some strange and unknown territory.

Cold in July is certainly original and far surpasses your average thriller. It would be impossible to guess the plotting in advance – or even during it – as many twists and turns are thrown in, creating some genuinely surprising moments.

Set in 1989, this truly feels ‘of the time’, from Ryan Samul’s beautiful cinematography to the evocative score from Jeff Grace, the film generates a slice of 80’s America that is incredibly authentic. Why it’s set in the 80’s is beyond me – presumably because of the book – but it harks of a simpler time without mobile phones and internet, and it works brilliantly.

Michael C. Hall is superb as the mulleted (it’s the 80’s, remember?) Richard and gives a powerhouse performance, showing fragility and strength in equal measure. The supporting cast do superbly well too, with excellent performances from Don Johnson and Nick Damici, and a terrifying turn from Sam Shepherd.

There are a few issues with Cold in July that may frustrate some modern audiences; the motivations and actions of the police are bizarre and extreme and never effectively explained, Richard’s leaky attic seems massively convenient and the timelines seem a little off… but these are minor quibbles in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable thriller.

This is a Gorepress review, so I guess you want to know about the scares / violence. Well, this is very much thriller territory, but there are moments of mild terror to be found, especially when Sam Shepherd’s Russel is stalking Richard’s family. The violence is visceral and brutal, with lots of blood, gore and bullet wounds. It’s gritty and nastily done.

Cold in July might not be a film that will stay in your memory for long, however – it’s a very well created film, with compelling performances and a surprising plot, but once it’s over it feels a little anticlimactic and may easily fade in audience’s minds. Some audiences will immediately add it to their ‘favourite films’ list, but for others it may not have the same impact as Stake Land and We Are What We Are had.

Overall I’d highly recommend watching Cold in July for another enjoyable slice of Jim Mickle and Nick Damici’s excellent filmmaking. It might be a little forgettable on hindsight, but it is a brilliantly made, superbly acted thriller which will shock, surprise and entertain.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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