At ski-central Park City, Utah, the 1989 summer-set Texan thriller ‘Cold In July’ made its big Sundance Film Festival debut to receptive and intrigued audiences. Based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale and starring the seasoned trio of Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson, director Jim Mickle takes a step away from his restrained and signature horror roots and sets a familiar stride to a gritty noire tale of true surprise.
Father, husband, and frame shop owner Richard Dane (Hall) shoots a burglar out of panic in his Texas home one early morning. Soon to meet a vengeful Ben Russel (Shepard), a recent parolee and father to the deceased, Dane becomes knotted into an early escalation of fears for his family. Soon he is geared through entirely new conflicts of greater risk and disturbance as secrets emerge. To help decipher new suspicions, ‘Red Bitch’ driving detective and friend to Russel, Jim Bob (a Johnson of sharp wit), joins a hunt deep-seated in the relationship between father and son. Brought to an ultimate and telling end, ‘Cold In July’ turns more than one threatening corner.
More niche than some Sundance films, ‘Cold In July’ offers not only a proud turn from Mickle (‘We Are What We Are’, ‘Stakeland’), but a thematic game changer. On a greater human level, set to music that takes you back to the 80’s themselves, and with a charge of curiosity where each next step is an exciting unknown, ‘Cold In July’ makes book-lovers and the novice follow keenly for the end result. Strong performances from the trio (a wary father, a hardened prisoner, a detective with a mouth), not to mention the very natural Vanessa Shaw as wife Ann, make it easier to absorb and enjoy the details beyond the acting, from scrubbing the blood caked to their living room décor to newspaper clippings and Jim Bob’s wailing pig farm.
With humor in good timing, often at Jim Bob’s mouth, ‘Cold In July’ wraps around our senses full circle at Sundance this year. Also starring Nick Damici and Wyatt Russel, co-written by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, and with potent cinematography under Ryan Samul, ‘Cold In July’ is a bold old/new flavor you might just love.