After shooting a house intruder dead, Richard Dane learns that the man was a wanted felon who’s father has recently been released on bail. Unsurprisingly tit-for-tat instances of revenge ensue which lead to a series of events so bizarre that all involved find their lives turned upside down.
The filmmaking team of Jim Mickle (director/co-writer) and Nick Damici (co-writer/actor) have managed to stay relatively unknown despite successfully crafting a number gems which, although existing in popular horror sub-genres (after a fashion), are smart, logical, low key and incredibly dignified, stretching their modest budgets expertly with results that, if there were any justice in the world, would be much more popular than they are.
Kicking-off their feature careers with the accomplished low-budget, virus-based-creature-feature-actioner, Mulberry St. (criminally yet somewhat understandably released as Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street, here in the UK… It’s not actually a zombie flick), the pair made the huge leap to post-apocalyptic-vampire-road-movie, with Stake Land, a film that was easily equal to films with four times its budget, production wise, and is probably the best vampire film of the last decade. Next came the obligatory remake that many filmmakers take at the request of studios, this one an odd choice, a kind of reworking of a Mexican cannibal-family-drama called We Are What We Are.
In staying below the radar, it took this reviewer by surprise when Mickle and Damici where able to get their next film out within a year of their last, with the added bonus that it would be based on a novel by one of his all time favourite authors, the Southern noir maestro, Joe R. Lansdale.
Besides his ability to craft down to earth and morally grey characters with a sense of justice, and infusing his prose with a sort of Southern familiarity and humour that cuts an odd balance with intense violence and mature subject matter, Lansdale also excels at blurring the lines between genres and taking his stories to totally unexpected places, which, happily, is a trait the filmmakers have been able to retain with their adaptation of Cold In July.
In fact this is the major selling point of the film. To the viewer at least it’s almost a blessing that this film has been so sparsely trailed, because the less that you know about it going in the better, as, like with many tense thrillers from Korea, from the set-up, there is literally no way you will be able to predict where this story is going to end up; quite the rarity in contemporary cinema. Hence the scant details about the narrative in this very review.
But rest assured this is a hard bitten, violent and suspenseful crime thriller from beginning to end. It can’t be said to look that nice, but then, that would actually be beside the point. Jim Mickle has gone out of his way to make it look decidedly… well, I guess bland would probably be as good a word as any to describe it, but as with Lansdale’s prose style, the scene setting of entirely middle of the road, Deep South normalcy, in aesthetics and sensibilities, mean that the turns of narrative are rendered even more outrageous and fantastic.
Set in 1989, it sports the kind of attention to detail put in the locations, wardrobe, Props, hair & make-up and the remarkably John Carpenter-esque musical score, that you could be forgiven for actually thinking this was a genuine product of the 80’s, so authentic is it’s look and feel, with only the recognisable cast as evidence that it is, in fact, a modern release.
And what an oddball central cast it is, with Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Sam Shepard (Mud) and Don Johnson (Machete Kills) all in excellent and weirdly complimentary form.
Little more need, or indeed, should be said. If you like your crime thrillers with a rough edge, an attitude that is as tough as old leather and violence as blunt as an elbow to the face, Cold in July is a must see; and that besides it rocks a story that, unusually, truly kicks in with the second act and keeps you guessing through each and every scene, so deserves to be seen by pretty much everyone else, so give it a try.
A grade – for storytelling
B grade – for visuals
B+ grade – for originality
A- grade – for acting
Overall grade – A-
If you enjoy Cold in January check out Mickle and Damici’s previously mentioned back catalogue, most especially Stake Land, the best of Joe R. Landale’s stand alone novels, A Fine Dark Line and The Bottoms, his DC graphic novel Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, and last but not least, Don Coscorelli’s equally excellent adaptation of Lansdale’s short novella, Bubba Ho-Tep.