UK Release: June 27th 2014
‘COLD IN JULY‘, an adaptation of the 1989 book of the same name from author Joe R Lansdale, tells the tale of a blue collar working family man (Michael C. Hall) shooting a intruder in his house, which sets of a dark story full of corruption and family affairs. Director Jim Mickle (‘Stake Land’ & ‘We Are What We Are’) reteams with his co-writer of Nick Damici on this, and has created something which more a homage the genre 80’s films from the likes of John Carpenter. In fact I would say it is as if it was John Carpenter in his prime had directed ‘A History of Violence’.
Visual the film is heyday Carpenter. A lot of wide (hollow looking) angle shots, the lighting (particularly when driving) has red neon lights lightening them up on screen, the font of the title card and how it appears behind the car as its coming past, the clothes and facial hair Michael C Hall has in his hero role, too even casting Kurt Russell’s son (Wyatt Russell), everything is very enshrined in the genre world of John Carpenter. One of the best referencing thought is that of Jeff Grace score which certainly brings a element to of cool, with the lightening (very much like ‘Drive’ – and I suspect this is why Icon distributed the film the UK, having been the ‘Drive’ distributor as well), and can be seen as a name to look out for in the future.
While it’s clear that Mickle knows his way around the genre very well (he uses these references to build something on its own merit), with his way he carries everything off, for people who might not be initiated with this VHS 80’s cinema, might not get the point of the world this film is in. They could be lost with the fact that some of the motives change in the main characters in a instant (saying that though that could be a criticism of the book) without much drive or conviction (as seen in the Western gun fight in the films third act) and some plot points are never fully explained (the coffin, the house break surveillance). But this does happen in the films it is placing itself with to be, the point that it ends somewhere completely different to the beginning, as if it the results from its constantly flipping its genre. It’s clear as well that this is its intention of the film is to be placed alongside these movies, as ‘Cold In July’ is set in the same year the book was published. It’s also nice to see actual VHS tapes play a huge role in the narrative development as well. I think the thing with something like ‘Drive’, another homage to these 80’s film, is the fact that having it being set in present day it helped audiences unfamiliar with these worlds, settle into the film, which is something which ‘Cold in July’ doesn’t do. So it is paramount that new audiences watch 80’s John Carpenter (and even Coen and Cronenberg) to really get a understanding with the motives of this film world.
While it is often very tense, there are some tonal issues which do set it off course. Don Johnson’s rodeo private farmer cowboy detective does feel a little out of place, however its understandably while he is in this as loud characters like this did appears in similar films of the era. The three leads are great as well. Hall is very confident in his role, you get a sense of dilemma about what has happened to him and how he starts off emasculated until he gets mentored (this is when the film starts changing its genre) of the archetypal dinosaurs of masculinity of the very good Sam Shepard and charismatic Don Johnson.
Again some of the changes in sudden genre, while it keeps you on your toes, might isolate some, and kill some of the tension, and its paramount to watch some of its 80’s VHS Horror/Thriller genre to perhaps ‘’get it’’. However this is still nice to see from the film makers that they aren’t tourists to the genre and instead somewhere they live at.