Jim Mickle’s twisted, darkly humorous, and all together exciting thriller Cold in July is one of those movies that tells one story for 50 minutes and then shifts gears into a second, almost completely new narrative that totally takes you by surprise. I love nasty little gems like this one, where you can’t truly predict where the wild plotting will take you, and by the end of it, you know you’ve watched something nifty and clever. I had read lots of comparisons to Blue Ruin, which I think are specious at best; this isn’t a locked-down genre-transcender like Jeremy Saulnier’s Coen-brothers esque effort. Rather, Mickle tells a juicy neo-noir story that aims to entertain rather than enlighten, with a beyond colorful Don Johnson supporting performance in the second act which compliments the already terrific work being done by Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard. Also, will someone PLEASE give Vinessa Shaw the lead on a TV drama; she’s always so excellent and natural and unforced (and not to mention gorgeous) and you always want to see more from whatever character she plays. It’s criminal that she doesn’t have an HBO or Showtime series to call her own. She should have gotten a huge career push after her revelatory turn in James Gray’s deeply underrated romantic drama Two Lovers, which remains one of the best recent films that nobody has seen.
The sordid plot to Cold in July, which Mickle concocted with longtime co-writer Nick Damici) involves murder, revenge, and all sorts of general brutality, and the film packs a truly ultra-violent punch during the final 15 minutes. After a home invasion leaves the intruder dead, Michael C. Hall receives a visit from the slain baddie’s father, played by a menacing Sam Shephard, who isn’t so happy that his son has been shot and killed. What follows is a cat and mouse game of terror, which then leads down some even darker and more transgressive tunnels of human behavior, all before a final act that has bloodshed on its mind like few others. Mickle served as co-editor (with John Paul Horstmann) and the entire film stings like pin-prick, with fast yet coherent pacing, while cinematographer Ryan Samul stressed the deviousness of the night, with shadowy and gritty cinematography that accurately conveyed the violent desperation of the various characters. All of it is pulled together by Jeff Grace’s creepy musical score, which never gets bombastic, instead opting for low-key accentuations and a general sense of casual sketchiness. Despite grossing less than $1 million in theaters (off of a VERY limited theatrical release), Cold in July has become an instant cult favorite, and is currently streaming on Netflix, as well as available on DVD/Blu-ray. Mickle is clearly a filmmaker worth keeping tabs on; I need to check out both Mulberry Street, We Are What We Are and Stake Land.