Having made his name on ‘Dexter’ as the titular closet serial killer, Michael C. Hall has a tough job of shedding the character in the rest of his acting career, but he makes a good start here in an intelligent and gripping thriller where he owns the lead role, and one that is very different from the aforementioned popular television series. He plays Richard Dane, an unassuming family man whose house is broken in to, leading to very drastic consequences that set in motion a chain of events Dane isn’t ready for. Director Jim Mickle is great at creating an atmosphere that drips with tension, and what we get here is a good exercise in how a thriller should be made, even if it veers a little on the wayward side trying to keep the plot moving.
Commendations must first go to a stellar cast, since not only does Fox excel but so do Sam Shepard and Don Johnson, encapsulating as a duo both the sinister and suspicious and the comic to great effect, they are performances that feel understated but that make their characters jump off the screen, gripping you almost instantly. It’s the wonderfully shot moments of nailbiting agony where the actors’ chemistry comes in to its own, and its hard to drag your eyes away from the screen in moments such as these, and Mickle makes sure there are a lot of them. While it may seem a little unclear at times why a character is doing something in particular, any plot issues are quickly forgotten about as another carefully choreographed sequence comes in to take hold of your senses. Even despite these moments, it manages to be harrowing, engrossing and just the right amount of repulsive to be a truly juicy thriller that never feels bare, even if it is just an atmospheric shot of the American South.
‘Cold in July’ may not be anything new in the genre and is largely an exploration of genre themes rather than an attempt to build a detailed, intricate story. Since the focus is on atmosphere, the simpler the plot the better and the film works best when Hall’s character has to wrestle with what he’s done in relation to his perception of himself and his family, and the dreadful consequences that could arise. Shepard’s character makes these moments all the more gripping and Mickle’s pinpoint direction ensures none of the atmosphere goes to waste. Its this that makes it the good genre film that it is, and it overcomes any issues it has by just being truly gripping. Refreshing indeed.
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