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New Release Review - Cold in July

When a mild mannered clerk shoots dead an intruder, he finds his family under threat.

Directed by: Jim Mickle
Starring: Michael C Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Wyatt Russell, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici


Richard (Hall, sporting the worst moustache and mullet combo imaginable) is awoken late at night by the sound of an intruder in his family's home. Taking his pistol downstairs, Richard is confronted by the burglar and accidentally shoots him when his finger slips on the trigger. Though the intruder was unarmed, Detective Ray Price (co-writer Damici) assures Richard he has nothing to worry about as the law considers his actions self defence, but Richard feels guilty nonetheless. When the dead man's father (Shepard) appears in town looking for revenge, however, Richard finds his family under threat.
Director Jim Mickle impressed with his 2010 sophomore effort Stake Land, a post-apocalyptic tale that used the zombie genre to critique religious fundamentalism, a topic he returned to with his third film, the less successful remake of the Mexican cannibal drama We Are What We Are. There are no such heady themes explored in his latest, Cold in July, an exercise in style over substance if ever there were one. But what style!
Stake Land had a remarkably similar visual style to Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James. I can't confirm if this were intentional or not, but with Cold in July, the debt to John Carpenter is acknowledged from the off, when the opening credits appear in Albertus, a font instantly recognisable as the go to choice for Carpenter. Add Jeff Grace's purring synth score and the casting of Kurt Russell's son Wyatt, and it's clear Mickle wants us to know just how much he owes to the horror master.
Shot in widescreen with a prowling camera, the film is an impressive facsimile of a Carpenter work, but Mickle displays an ability to build tension that can only be earned, not borrowed. Like Carpenter, Mickle films in an economical style, never wasting a cut, shot, or camera move; always advancing the story.
Cold in July is a movie of two halves. The first, and more satisfying, plays like a remake of Halloween, if Michael Myers were an aging good ol' boy played by Sam Shepard. The movie's standout sequence owes more to Halloween 4 than Carpenter's original, however, as Richard's family and the police nervously wait for Shepard's Ben Russell to attempt a break in. When Shepard is revealed by a flash of lightning in a child's bedroom, it's impossible not to think of Myers terrorising a young Danielle Harris.
Mickle had me so onboard that, despite its unoriginal premise, I would have happily watched a simple cat and mouse game between Hall and Shepard, but in the second act a plot twist is introduced that derails (no pun intended) the film to a large degree. Plot holes start to emerge as rapidly as gopher holes on a poorly maintained golf course, and character's motivations leave us scratching our heads in bewilderment. The film uncomfortably segues from John Carpenter to John Flynn, and while Don Johnson's cliched Texan private eye is a lot of fun, he feels like he's in the wrong movie.
Along with Ti West, Mickle represents the great hope of American genre film-making, but as with West's, his films are never quite the sum of their parts, thanks wholly to clumsy script-writing. If Mickle can get his hands on a decent script we'll really be in for a treat, as there are few better technical directors working today. Halloween 3 anyone?
7/10


Eric Hillis

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