Sunday, July 13, 2014

Film Review: Cold In July (2014)

Picture the scene:  You’re at home in bed and your wife/husband wakes you up to tell you that they can hear a strange sound.  You hear it too so you go to the cupboard and get your emergency gun.  As you slowly walk into the front room you see in horror that there is a man trying to rob you so you raise your gun at him.  As you hold the gun you hear a loud noise so accidently pull the trigger and shoot him dead.  What do you do/how do you feel?

In the UK and the USA there are widely varying opinions on how you should feel.  Americans would probably see this as self-defense, where Brits would probably see this as murder.  Oscar Pistorious fans are still on the fence… 

This is the opening scene of Jim Mickle’s Cold In July, a dark thriller about the repercussions of an accidental shooting of an intruder.  The perpetrator of the shooting is Richard (Michael C. Hall), a protective father who works as a picture framer in 1980s Texas.  The victim of the shooting turns out to have a murderous father who has just been released form jail called Ben (Sam Shephard), whom Richard becomes convinced is trying to get revenge for the accident.  Yet after spending time with the police and starting to doubt the identity of the man he shot, Richard and Ben have to work together to solve an even grislier crime that is outside police attention…

The symbolism of Richard’s job becomes deeply ironic considering that he suspects that he is being ‘framed’ by someone, but the otherwise absolute ordinariness of his life is the central premise of the tragedy – that ordinary people get dragged into extraordinary situations. But the casting of Dexter as the anxious vigilante has an intertextual humour that is present in other moments of obvious pastiche:  the arrival of a helper character known as the “red bitch” in a nod to ‘the wolf’ in Pulp Fiction; slow-motion three-shots of the men with their guns in a reference to Resevoir Dogs; the men discussing their plan at a drive-in movie theatre whilst watching Night of the Living Dead  The film offers rewards to viewers who love b-movie narratives/clichés.

The cinematography is directed by long-term Mickle collaborator Ryan Samul who creates a kind of Texan Twin Peaks aesthetic, whilst the music is a haunting electronic soundscape by rising star Jeff Grace.  Together the film has an atmosphere that makes me nostalgic for celluloid and vinyl.  It’s a successful 80s pastiche with a grimy plot and a violent sense-of-humour with an added message about gun violence and so called ‘stand your ground’ laws.

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