Cold in July (2014)     ★★★★½

Director Jim Mickle announces himself as a major talent with this pulpy, Texas-fried noir adapted from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale, an author I recall fondly from old Tales From The Cryptand Vault Of Horror comics. So be prepared for graphic violence and narrative twists aplenty, which Mickle visualizes quite beautifully, drawing from his background in exceptional, above-average horror yarns (Mulberry St., We Are What We Are remake).

Michael C. Hall (finally free of the trappings of Dexter) stars as Richard Dane, a picture framer by trade, living the quiet, East Texas life with his wife and son, when one night he surprises a burglar and shoots him dead. Naturally shaken, things are quickly compounded when the father of the dead man comes into town, sending Dane into panic mode to protect his family. Things escalate until Dane’s no longer sure of the identity of the man he shot, which draws him into a much larger and darker plot.

If Cold In July has a flaw, it’s about halfway through when the taut, narrative tension gets lifted, and for a few moments too many, its several threads are juggled, almost to the point of incredulity. But then Mickle grounds things in the further evolution of Dane’s character, and although it is something we’ve seen many times before, Cold In July gives it a fresh, very cinematic delivery. By the time he pulls out the stunning deep focus shots, and plays with filters during the final shootout, bathing a room in red after a bullet rips through someone’s face and sprays blood all over the overhead light, Cold In July becomes something to treasure, its style capturing or maybe dictating, the psychological transformations of its characters.

Lastly, Jeff Grace’s cool, retro-eighties synth score makes the film seem like a time capsule from that decade, instantly recalling the soundtrack to Refn’s Drive, but removing the hipster ironies in favor of nailing a specific time and place. Set in the late 1980’s it might as well have been filmed then, for all its brazen depiction of violence, its lurid narrative twists, and its homespun VHS feel. I have no doubt Jim Mickle will create a masterpiece one day.Cold In July is as fine a portent as any director has achieved. With this film, as with We Are What We Are, he has demonstrated a passion for breaking the boundaries of genre filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

The Verdict: Rave

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