Laden with neon, synth and mullets, Jim Mickle’s latest film ‘Cold in July’ is a stylish throwback to the eighties, adapted from a novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale. Michael C. Hall, who is known for playing cool serial killer Dexter, stars as Richard Dane, an honest family man who confronts a house intruder in the opening scene. The suspenseful start sets up an interesting premise, as threatening criminal Ben (Sam Shepard) begins to torment Richard and his loved ones. This raises questions around carrying a firearm for protection in the home, and the consequences that this form of self defence can present. This slow-burning thriller is full of potential but descends into ridiculousness, as the directorial vision becomes somewhat blurred.
Starting with a Cape Fear atmosphere, with Sam Shepard in the haunting Max Cady type role, before turning into something more along the lines of Dukes of Hazzard, writer director Mickle has very clear, if mismatched, influences for this project. Jeff Grace’s electronic score has strong flavours of the work of Cliff Martinez, who provided the sounds for Drive and Only God Forgives. Comparisons aside, the story has pacing issues and takes too long to get anywhere. Around halfway, an unorthodox investigator Jim Bob Luke, played brilliantly by Don Johnson, is added to the fray and certainly brings with him a much needed dose of adrenaline. His snappy sense of humour distracts from the shoddy character development but after a while, it becomes hard to see the motives in any of the protagonists as they join forces to bring down an snuff-video operation.
‘Cold in July’ is not without its strong points, and is very successful at building tension. I can’t remember being as gripped as I was watching the first couple of scenes. The performances are suitably solid also, with each of the three big names bringing another dimension. The problem is that the elements that their characters provide feel as though they belong in three separate films. Somewhere the recipe turns sour. The inventive and attractive cinematography will only hold the attention of the audience for so long but ultimately, the unnerving chill becomes an irritating draught.
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