A creak in the night, a foreign, silent cacophony you feel in your gut rather than actually hear; the unmistakable patter of an intruder. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) unlocks his Smith and Weston, loading it with trembling fingers. “Stay down,” he warns his wife and creeps into the living room to the unwelcoming invitation of a flashlight gliding over his belongings. He points the uneasy barrel of his shaking gun at the masked figure, wrapped in a thief’s customary black garb; stoic, ready. The sudden din of the clock striking midnight catches Richard off guard and he fires an accidental bullet at the intruder, painting the wall in a crimson puff of brains.
Such is the set up to Cold in July, a thriller so full of twists and turns that were it a highway, not even Niki Lauda would make it out unscathed. To reveal any more would be to take the fun out of the jet-black adventure to come but believe me when I say that whenever you start to figure out what you think is coming next, director and screenwriter Jim Mickle’s throws a wrench in the works. Our assumed confidence in what’s to come is Mickle’s invitation for an umbrella in the spokes and he delivers such with a wholly organic and brilliantly paced vibrato and a Sean Connery grin.
If We Are What We Are was Mickle figuring out his footwork, Cold in July is him mastering his alarmingly bleak samba. There may be no cannibals out for blood and bone this time round but there’s no shortage of underbelly material that’ll have your eyes racing for cover.
And while Mickle’s last outing marked a strong footnote on female perseverance in the face of her family’s unholy war on humanity – and was a remake of an acclaimed Mexican film – Cold in July is distinctly masculine and distinctly American. From Hall’s proud mullet to Sam Shepard’s gruff hound dog of an outlaw, this is Texas Food Chain Massacre, Stalker: Texas Ranger.
A fully quaffed Don Johnson shows up on the scene offering a shade of aviator-wearing PI reserved for the likes of a Tarantino movie. He owns every scene he steps foot in, casually herding those around him like a salesman with a pitchfork hidden behind his back. His sheep in wolves clothing persona gives the film some much needed comic moments, tastefully spliced so as to not jar the building forebode Mickle’s assembling.
Breaking off a decade long stay on premium television (Six Feet Under for five years and Dexter for eight), Hall shows off a new side, sort of. He’s closer in kind to David than the cold-blooded and deliberate Dexter, landing somewhere between that vast spectrum and yet less unabashedly likeable than either of them. Hall is brimming with veteran talent and this is exactly the kind of role he needs to show off his penchant for human complexity.
As the next chapter in Mickle’s ascension, Cold in July is a wonderfully stylized jangle of unsettling imagery, deep-seated tension, and brash, bold, cold comeuppances.