DVD REVIEW: COLD IN JULY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JIM MICKLE / SCREENPLAY: NICK DAMICI, JIM MICKLE / STARRING: MICHAEL C. HALL, VINESSA SHAW, DON JOHNSON, SAM SHEPARD RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 20TH
Cold in July is the fourth and best cinematic offering from director Jim Mickle and his regular co-writer Frank Damici. Their previous works, particularly the apocalyptic Stake Land and the bizarrely touching We Are What We Are, hinted strongly that this was a creative pair on the ascendant, and Cold in July is the film where everything comes together.
Based on the novel by genre bending Joe R. Lansdale (you might know his work from other adaptations such as Buba Ho-Tep and the Masters of Horror episode, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road) Cold in July is astoundingly faithful to the spirit of its source material. Set in 1989, this is a film that oozes ‘80s cinematic nostalgia from its synth score to its subdued neo-noir pacing.
The film starts with a home break-in that ends fatally for the burglar, as home owner and family man Richard Dane (Hall), shoots the intruder. From that moment he’s hailed as a hero, but that does little to quell his feelings of guilt for taking a life. Things take a turn for the worse when the dead man’s father comes into town. He waves at Richard from across the street as Richard collects his son from school, he stands at the foot of the bed and watches Richard's son sleep, and just as you think you know what direction the film is taking, it takes a sharp turn onto Bizarre Street. The film plays on your expectations of genre cinema with recognisable tropes such as organised crime and police corruption, and a truly horrific depiction of pornography; but then it zigzags its way across the lush East Texas landscape to its explosive and blood soaked conclusion.
Fans of Dexter will revel in Hall’s measured depiction of mild-mannered Richard Dane, who grudgingly accepts that in order to protect his family he will have to turn his back on all his values and beliefs. Sam Shepard plays a calmly aggrieved Ben Russell, the father of the shot intruder, in a chillingly patient style. You can't help but wonder just when the BOO! moment will come and all his fury is let loose . But the act that really steals the show is Don Johnson as P.I. Jim Bob Luke who's so Texan that his bright cherry red Cadillac's hood ornament is a pair of long horns. He's a character that once he starts a job he will see it through, no matter how tough it gets.
Mickle recently announced that he was developing Lansdale's Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels for television. If that series is as well-crafted and as respectful to the books as Cold in July, then we're all in for a Southern fried treat.