Cold in July
Solid breakthrough film from a director with a rich background in indie horror
Jim Mickle is a name that you may be familiar with if you have a keen interest in the low budget American horror scene. Having worked his way through the technical department of various indie films over the years in 2006 he directed his first feature Mulberry St. Then arguably a step up in his career with ‘We are what we are’ coming out last year the industry was ready to give him a big chance.
Cold in July is a novel written by Joe. R Lansdale as it captures the events following Richard Dane’s accidental shooting of an intruder. This leads Richard onto a path of lies, violence and justice that doesn’t just involve clearing his mind of the dreadful event.
To start with there was a lot of talk around this about how it was a fantastic debut film from Jim Mickle, sometimes that can be a very lose phrase for publicity purposes however in this case I completely agree with such a statement. Coming from such a background as gritty indie horror he could of easily interpreted the content in a similar way to his previous work. Thankfully Mickle is able to manipulate the conventions he created in his early work to the best ability here, the stand out being a gritty nature to the whole tale.
This is made clear by the characters and the suitable casting for such roles starting with of course Dexter himself Michael C Hall. Like many I’m a fan of his work not just as the brilliant likeable serial killer but also from Six Feet Under and his brilliant portrayal of David who not only has the troubles of being a funeral director but also numerous personal issues that Hall is able to convey with ease. In this lead he plays the rather nervous Richard Dane who is thrust into a world of violence and morals of which he must tackle. Now just who does Dane have to help tackle such issues, well no other than Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. They play two aged but ruthless rouges who join Dane following his shooting incident, we learn more about them as the film progresses however I will avoid this to escape spoilers. Like many of my age I am not familiar with Don Johnson’s work having looked him up after viewing this film it’s not hard to see why. Obviously his past work on Miami Vice stapled him as an actor yet more recently he has begun a resurgence with the like of Machete and Django Unchained on his list. Nevertheless it’s a great bit of casting as he represents the masculinity that Dane lacks and desires in a role of ‘hired man’ who gets the job done and is ably named Jim Bob.
The film itself plays brilliantly off these characters with Mickle’s grittiness manipulating Texas in the late 80’s. Something that stands out throughout the film is the variation of colours used or rather the draining of such images. In an interview with den of geek Mickle describes the alteration “Moonlight, in that era of film making – the 70s, 80s and 90s – always had that very blue moonlight” We can really see that the direction is a very obvious homage to films of such an era and given the content, setting and tone of such a film it reads really well. The one issue for me that held the film back was it’s attempt to be clever with the use of various twists to keep the audience guessing. Now this is usually a good thing however it meant the action was less powerful and this was made more frustrating by a rather disappointing ending that diverted the tone of the film that I had so enjoyed.
Cold in July is a well constructed film that doesn’t play to all the conventions of a modern thriller with characters that give a surprise laugh or two as well as being relate-able. It’s a film which engages it’s audience with brilliant ease thanks to the cast and direction. Finally I understand that Mickle is looking to expand on this ‘universe’ by adapting Landsdale’s Hap and Leonard series into a TV show, so be sure to look out for that.