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Review: Jim Mickle brings well-honed suspense to new drama ‘Cold in July’

Cold In July


Director Jim Mickle has made a name for himself as an innovative and strong voice in the horror genre. His latest effort, Cold in July, (in select theaters May 30) is a departure from the vampires, cannibals and the like that have populated his earlier films, but; this look at two men driven to extremes by circumstances is highlighted by the same spot-on sense of pacing and suspense that made those works such engaging bits of horror.

Don Johnson (Jim Bob) and Michael C. Hall (Richard Dane) in Jim Mickle’s COLD IN JULY.
Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

In an interview conducted last year, Mickle spoke a bit about Cold in July, characterizing it as a southern noir or southern thriller inspired by the style of early Coen brothers movies. And indeed, the 1989 setting, spot on period details, little atmospheric elements and even the plot trajectory are reminiscent of the Coen touch. Whereas a Coen picture might be peppered with dark humor here and there, Mickle instead adds tension to his work. And it is that “don’t go back in the house” quality that grabs viewers from the star and guides them on this journey.

Michael C. Hall stars as Richard Dane, a husband, frame shop owner and father, who also happens to be quite a good shot under pressure. When he is awoken deep in the night by the sound of an intruder he grabs his gun, creeps down the hall, and unable to tell if the man in his house is armed or not, (but is certainly threatening in any case) lets loose with one well-placed bullet. The would-be intruder most sincerely dead, Richard and his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw, a.k.a. Allison from Hocus Pocus for viewers of a certain age), are left with nothing to do but pick up the pieces and try to move on. Unfortunately, the arrival of Russel, vengeful ex-con with a murderous streak (Sam Shepard), who also happens to be the dead would-be intruder’s father, complicates that plan of action significantly.

As is so often true in the world of film noir, our hero Richard soon discovers that almost nothing since the moment the now dead man broke into his house has been as it seems, and he finds himself turning to the unlikeliest of allies to get everything sorted out. What follows is an unexpected and engrossing trajectory, that offers as much meditation on the human condition as it does suspense.

Mickle and writing partner Nick Damici, prove that their talent as storytellers crosses genres, and though horror fans will certainly want to see them return to those roots eventually, Cold in July more than makes the case that their efforts in any genre are worth taking in.