There are moments when Cold In July lives up to its stellar reputation and others where it appears to be the most bewilderingly over-rated film of the year. It commences with a moral quandary recalling A History Of Violence before quickening the pulse for some Cape Fear-style stalking. It then drifts into an almost satirical tribute to John Carpenter’s greatest hits and moves towards a conclusion that feels like a particularly challenging level of Hotline Miami. And it’s far odder than such a summary can explain.
Sporting a comedy mullet, Dexter’s Michael C. Hall leads as Richard, a shop-keepin’ everyman who blows away a burglar. The law says it’s okay and the community treats him like a hero, which leaves him even more confused by the emotional turmoil that his actions provoke. There’s not a great deal of time to worry about it, however, for his ‘victim’ is gaining an afterlife vengeance courtesy of his sinister father (Sam Shepard). Soon enough, the two became allies in one of the daftest plots twists of recent memory and are joined by a larger-than-life private investigator (Don Johnson) who immediately overshadows everyone with his blend of Texan clichés and extreme violence.
Director Jim Mickle can certainly capture tension and foreboding with the help of a Carpenter-style synth-heavy soundtrack and some gloomy cinematography. If you can forgive its dafter excesses, the plot moves in some entertainingly strange directions (notably with a nod to the long-forgotten world of VHS video nasties) en route to a finale that, contradictorily, is as predictable as they come. It’s good. It’s bad. It’s ugly. It’s Cold In July.