Jim Mickle is fast proving himself to be a director of particular vision and consistent quality: 2010’s Stakeland and last year’s We Are What We Are both flaunt a gorgeous unity of content and tone. This perfect southern Gothic vibe leaks through into his new feature Cold in July.The first third is almost a horror film; a stalker tale/home invasion, the second: a weird buddy detective thriller, and the final act a mex-ploitation revenge flick. It’s a strange but pleasing mix of pulpy ideals that seems sort of genius when you consider the technical and creative talent that manages to pull it off. Visually the film is muggy and dark, evoking a similar clamminess to We Are What We Are, but breaking free of that film’s shadow at the points when it successfully combines those post-Drive blues with the Southern Gothic thing. The thick shadows, neon reds, a gorgeous close up of a Cadillac’s bonnet as rain thunders down: it all evokes a fantastic noir sensibility that the film thrives on from start to finish.
Though Hall gives a solid performance, he unfortunately slides aside when sharing the screen with the other two leads. Sheppard gives a tortured performance that captivates with every second he’s on screen, his character even reluctantly becomes the centre piece of the feature. Yet, undoubtedly, it’s Johnston who steals the show leading the bizarre band on their road trip, tearing down the Texas highways accompanied by a cool synth soundtrack. His ballsy, hilarious and tender rendition of the wise-guy investigator maintains audience attention when the story begins a whole new crusade around the 80 minute mark.
Some people will find the film’s final act a strain on the film overall, but if you can appreciate the pulp of it, if you’ve ever read Spillane or Lansdale, then you’ll really appreciate it. Especially when that last act contains so many gorgeous visuals and executes a few raw action sequences that allow the, generally, low-key film to step up to a colourful ultra-violent finale.
Part noir, part seedy 80’s nostalgia, Cold in July is a visually impressive, hot and sticky descent into the West Texas criminal underbelly, led by enthralling performances from Sheppard and Johnson. Highly recommended.