Jim Mickle keeps getting better as a filmmaker. Though his 2006 debut Mulberry Street remains unseen by me, his last two movies, 2010's Stake Land and last year's We Are What We Are, have shown tremendous growth; while his movies have always been impressively directed, they continue to get better as actual movies. His latest, Cold in July, is his best movie yet. Unlike his previous efforts, it is not a horror film. Instead, it's a crime thriller, a contemporary noir, a revenge movie, a drama about fathers and sons. It's a cool little movie.
For his first non-horror outing, Mickle and writing partner Nick Damici have adapted the novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale about a man named Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) who kills an intruder late one night only to have the dead intruder's father, a recently-paroled criminal named Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), begin to terrorize his family.
And that's just the beginning.
While an argument could be made that the movie be shorter -- at nearly two hours, it sags a bit in the middle -- I love how economical much of Mickle's storytelling is. A lesser movie would have spent 20 minutes establishing Dane as a character: where he works, who his family is, what he has to lose should things ever go wrong. Instead, Cold in July jumps right to the break in and shooting, not just because it gets the plot moving straight away but also because it immediately establishes Dane as a character. He is a frightened man and a reactive character, but not a pussy. In fact, he may be too quick to act without considering the consequences -- not so much in defending his home (though a case is there), but in much of what he does in the aftermath. Cold in July concerns itself very much with masculinity, offering differing kinds of men navigating the same world and colliding with one another. Dane is the least "manly" in the old-world, stereotypical sense. He is fearful and unsure. He's also the best version of a man the movie has.
Cold in July is currently in limited release and on VOD.