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Cold In July review

From the unexplained title, to the unresolved plot threads, the latest from genre-bending writer/director Jim Mickle and writer/actor Nick Damici ( We Are What We Are , Stake Land ) is one contrary son of a gun. Adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s source novel, it’s a thriller of three parts, all of them enjoyable, none of them especially well joined.

Set in small-town Texas in 1989 – cue terrible mullets and music – it begins with a scene of shocking bloodshed as family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) defends his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son (Brogan Hall) from an intruder. But instead of dwelling on the moral consequences of an ordinary joe taking a stand (a la A History Of Violence ), the film takes a sharp left-turn into psycho-thriller territory when the intruder’s father (Sam Shepard) comes a-calling. Then, before anyone gets too comfortable, Don Johnson’s pig farmerturned- PI swings by – apparently straight from The Dukes Of Hazzard . It’s not long before violence engulfs them all once again.

It’s as if the filmmakers are scared of boring people (or themselves), which they haven’t done yet and never do here. Even so, the disparate plot elements and heated, serio-comic tone are difficult to assimilate. Though ostensibly the main protagonist, Dane’s motivations don’t quite hold water. Meanwhile, Damici’s crucial-seeming character disappears completely, and the frequent switches of pace and location make the eventual antagonists seem distant and unworthy of such vengeance; not something you could say about the recent Blue Ruin , for example. A longer film – or a slower one – might have landed all of its leaps.

In recompense, we get reliably twinkly performances from old pros Shepard and Johnson, Jeff Grace’s lovely synthy score, an explosive climax, and the feeling that we never know what’s going to happen next, or even what film we’re watching. On that basis, perhaps contrariness isn’t too high a price to pay.

Mickle and Damici deliver a tense redneck noir with a twist – and a few issues – but it’s more like a promising placeholder than the masterpiece they’re capable of.

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