Cold In July

Two thrillers suddenly popped up (how else would they appear, right?) in our theater last weekend and The Boy and I endeavored to see both, with the first being the low-budget indie Cold In July, starring Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard.

The first thing that struck me about this film is how good an actor Michael C. Hall is. Fresh off his turn as the eponymous serial killer in “Dexter”, in this movie, he plays Richard Dane, nervous father/husband for whom things go awry when his house is broken into.

This movie is based on a Joe Lansdale story, and oozes with atmosphere, as well as going off in directions you’d never expect starting out. It reminds me very strongly of Lansdale’s short story The Night They Missed The Horror Show, in terms of motifs, not exactly plot.

Dane has the story’s main character arc, shrinking from something that seems evil, only to find himself confronting something horrific in a way that normal people can’t understand. Sam Shepard’s character, Russel, is a lot more opaque. We get that he’s been through a lot and done some things, but he has a real sense of honor that powers the story.

Don Johnson is great as Jim Bob, a private detective who puts the pieces together both in terms of the mystery, and in terms of fleshing out the narrative, providing exposition, for example, where the laconic Russel would never, and keeping things from getting too grim (until they absolutely must).

It’s a really fine noir thriller, complete with plot twists that don’t really add up, and it takes place in 1989, with nice evocative music from Jeff Grace.

The only real shortcoming for me was that Dane’s character arc doesn’t quite work. He goes from a near milquetoast at the beginning who really doesn’t want trouble to virtually seeking it out at the end. And the movie didn’t quite support that change.

Eh, feels like a nitpick. The Boy and I loved it; it was a truly pleasant surprise to have this movie come out of nowhere and give us a classic pulp thriller.

Now, for the review’s twist: The writer and director of the movie are none other than Jim Mickle and Nick Damici! And if you recognize those names, you’re probably a dedicated enough reader of this blog to be considered a stalker.

The team of Mickle and Damici worked together on one of the best (and lowest budgeted) of the After Dark Horror Festival’s films, Mulberry Street. While my review (linked there) suffers from having to write eight in three days, it’s interesting to note that the better aspects of Mulberry Street are still in evidence: atmosphere, suspense, and characterization.

But where Mulberry unravelled, this film stays tight all the way through. If you’re in the mood for a gritty noir thriller, Cold In July is a good bet.

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