In his career so far, director Jim Mickle has remained predominantly in the horror genre, but he now presents Cold in July, and while something of a departure for him, he relies on tropes of the aforementioned style to help move this picture along. Tapping into the same murky, Deep South setting that has proved to be a more than reliable stomping ground of late, spawning a variety of brilliant movies, ranging from Mud, to Killer Joe to The Paperboy, this plays on such sensibilities to create a similarly bleak affair, though sadly lacks the ingenuity of those mentioned above.
When Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) is awoken by a burglar in his humble abode, the transpiring set of events change his life for ever – as he confronts the thief somewhat impulsively – by shooting and killing the young man. Overcome by guilt, Richard soon has other demons to battle, as the invader’s father Russel (Sam Shepard) is released on parole, and out for revenge – turning his attentions to Richard’s wife and young son. However it soon appears that perhaps the best thing would be for the pair to join forces, as they suspect corrupt wrongdoings from the powers that be – bringing in pig farmer Jim Bob (Don Johnson) to get to the bottom of this shady case.
The excellent, suspenseful opening scene paves the way for what should be a fine production – as the initial killing that sets the tone for this feature, is so surprising and hurried that is reflects real life, as it just happens in the blink of a moment, as anything of this ilk would. However sadly the rest of the film struggles to match this compelling beginning, as the further we progress into the tale, the more needless twists and turns we take, and the plot holes begin to show. While the ropey character development proves to be something of an issue, and the film can be accused of being quite haphazard and messy, as it lovingly plays up to such a style, it can be let off the hook somewhat.
Hall makes for an intriguing entry point, and while he plays such a callous, cold-hearted killer in popular TV series Dexter, it’s fascinating to see him get into the mind of a killer of a different ilk; one with a real conscious, who is afraid of murder, as we explore the humanised themes that come with such a role. However any such realism that exists in that regard is shortly lived, as the film grows so absurd and drops any sense of raw, human emotion, in turn for a pulpy shoot ‘em up thriller. Though detrimental from a narrative point of view, the tone seems somewhat more fitting, as our three leads exude charisma, with Johnson the key perpetrator, remaining at the heart of the lighter side to proceedings. This has many comic elements that make for a thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema – it’s just not necessarily an accomplished one.
That’s counteracted, however, by a brilliant score – with many suspenseful moments refined by the sound of the higher pitched keys on the piano, making for a chilling ambiance. Though for every commendation, comes a misgiving, as a film that sets itself up for greatness, with so much promise in the strong narrative and desolate atmosphere, yet it loses its sense of direction and flirts between a variety of genres, seemingly unsure of exactly what it’s trying to be.