Continuously shifting its gears & changing its tone out of nowhere, Cold in July is an endless orgy of surprising twists & unexpected turns which keeps the viewers guessing throughout its runtime, is stylishly crafted by its director, brilliantly performed by its badass cast & cleverly executed in all departments of filmmaking to succeed as not only one of the best independent features to come out in recent memory but also as one of this year’s finest films. Effortlessly defying any genre classification by constantly evolving & reinventing itself, the story begins as one thing in the first act, takes a steep turn in the second to step into a different genre & just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s headed, it changes its course once again to finish as something else entirely.
Set in a small town of Texas during the late 1980s, the story of Cold in July is based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel of the same name & concerns Richard Dane; a local civilian, who wakes up one night to find an intruder in his house and accidentally shoots & kills him in a moment of panic. Severely shaken by the whole experience, Dane tries to move on with his life after being assured by the sheriff that he killed a wanted felon. However, things are set in motion when the murderous ex-con father of the deceased, who’s bent on avenging his son’s death, starts stalking Dane’s family. Sooner, both men find out that they’ve been misled by the police in what appears to be a cover-up operation & enlist the help of a private investigator to dig deeper into this web of conspiracy & corruption, only to be left completely shattered by what they eventually end up unearthing.
Confidently directed by Jim Mickle (Stake Land & We Are What We Are), there isn’t one moment in the film that doesn’t have the director’s firm grip on it plus the effortless manner in which he’s able to mishmash various genres & still keep the audience invested in the story speaks volumes about his talents as a filmmaker. Written by both Jim Mickle & Nick Damici, the screenplay keeps the narrative tightly knitted from beginning to end & leaves out anything that isn’t relevant to its premise. The creative input by the teams handling its production design, costumes, make-up & hairstyling departments provide a very authentic look & feel to the whole picture and wonderfully captures the era it is set in. Camerawork is expertly handled, editing is neatly done & its much synthesised score exhibits an energy of its own which seamlessly integrates with the whole narrative.
Coming to the performances, Cold in July features a badass cast in Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard & Don Johnson, each of whom are absolutely fabulous in their given roles. Hall (best known for his role in the TV Show, Dexter) shows a much wider range as an actor to smoothly pull off the role of Richard Dane; an everyman whose one inadvertent action triggers a series of unwanted reactions, and it’s this character only who’s our ticket into the story. Sam Shepard chips in with a very strong performance as Ben Russell; the ex-con father of the deceased intruder looking to settle the score. And finally, we have Don Johnson who, from the moment he makes his entrance into this story, ends up completely stealing the show with a performance that exudes confidence, coolness & charisma at all times. Johnson plays Jim Bob Luke; the private detective who helps both Richard & Ben understand the situation they’re dealing with, and is easily the best thing in the movie.
On an overall scale, Jim Mickle’s Cold in July is a smart, stylish & sophisticated indie, covering a wide range of genres in its 110 minutes of runtime yet there is no particular label which can be pinned on it. What’s even more surprising is that despite its frequent shift in tones & constant modification in narration, it never turns out to be a frustrating experience for the transition is carried out with sublime accuracy under the supervision of the director & everything in the end stacks up amazingly well. Sustaining its nerve-wracking tension throughout its runtime, keeping the viewers absorbed into its ever-evolving story & delivering the thrills in an immensely satisfying manner, Cold in July is one of the best looking films of the year, not to mention one of the coolest as well, which tries to do way too many things with its narrative & fabulously succeeds. Worthy of a wider audience, this roller-coaster ride of emotions comes very strongly recommended.