I don’t hide the fact that I love Jim Mickle. I honestly think that he is one of the most exciting young filmmakers in cinema right now. Whilst the art-house youngsters are intriguing (think Xavier Dolan), I’m much more excited by the work that Mickle is turning out – he is turning tired and clichéd genres into something really fun and entertaining. When Cold in July was announced, my excitement only grew due to Mickle expanding outside of his horror roots and into the dirty world of neo-noir.
Cold in July, based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, tells the story of Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) – a quiet and unassuming man living with his family in the small town Texas. One night an intruder breaks into Richard’s home, and through a flinch reaction Richard shoots the criminal dead. It is revealed that the criminal was the son of a scary bad guy who has just been released from prison. And that is just the start.
It doesn’t take long to work out that Cold in July isn’t going to be the usual thriller. Starting out like one of the great 80s slashers, the film pivots from one genre to another, eventually turning itself into a bizarre, schizophrenic and unpredictable thriller. It is hard to say it entirely works, or that any section of it works, but as a whole product it is refreshingly fun, brimming with steamy violence and moody performances. Mickle’s direction is something to behold and he yet again firms up the calls that he is the new Carpenter.
As well as the direction and plotting being entirely unpredictable, so are the 3 leading men. It is surprising to see the likes of Hall, Shepard and Johnson deliver 3 wildly different performances that all push the film into the same direction. It is also surprising that 3 actors who’ve made their careers playing the same character over and over again can still deliver work of this quality. Johnson steals most scenes if you are after entertainment, but it is hard to deny the great work Shepard – his subtle performance brings all the power in the second half of the film and makes the film much more rounded.
The script is perhaps the film’s biggest downfall. Whilst Mickle juggles the styling and direction of the plot with strange ease, it’d be even better if his own script didn’t have him jumping through hoops to make it work. The plot twists come thick and fast once the film passes the halfway point, and it constantly feels like the house of cards is about to fall. By the end it grows increasingly ridiculous, and sometimes it’ll make you groan in frustration because of how silly it turns. Thankfully though each almost-collapse is safely navigated by something funny or something smart.
Jim Mickle has been building in quality with each film. Cold in July is a very good film, however Mickle still has a little more work to do yet – he has grown visually with this film and he knows how to work a different genre, but he needs to become a better writer if he is to craft his own distinct classic. My excitement for his career is still sky high, because Cold in July is a gloriously violent and stylish thriller I’m going to watch dozens of times. Bring on the next one, Jim, I’m ready!