Watching Cold in July is like getting on a bus and quickly realizing the increasingly sweaty and foreboding ride isn’t remotely heading for the destination named on your ticket.
In this East Texas tale set in 1989, director and co-writer Jim Mickle sure dishes out some unexpected and grim-tasting BBQ. Based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, the movie quickly gets down to business as Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), a low-key, picture-framing shop owner with a semi-mullet, awakens in the dead of night to the sounds of an intruder whom he shoots dead.
Unmasked, the felon is identified as Freddy Russel by the town’s hands-on sheriff Ray (co-writer Nick Damici), who significantly ups the security for Ray, his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and young son after some unsettling news. Turns out Ben Russel (Sam Shepard), Freddy’s dad, has just been paroled from prison and, in all likelihood, will be heading straight for the Danes to wreak some eye-for-an-eye vengeance.
The quietly distraught Richard and an ominously glaring Ben unexpectedly meet at Freddy’s funeral, seemingly setting up an anticipated cat-and-mouse revenge theme. However, on a subsequent visit to Ray’s office to lay out a surveillance plan to protect his family, Richard sees a poster that makes the titular “cold” into something truly “cold-blooded.”
Completing the narrative twist is the appearance of Jim Bob (Don Johnson), Ben’s Korean-War buddy who, as a pig-farmer, has nonetheless amassed a jaw-dropping collection of embroidered shirts. Go figure. Suddenly, we’re in Texas-pulp-crime, three-amigos territory.
The less you know about plot machinations here, the better. However, it’s no spoiler that eclipsing the primary and ultimately devastating father-and-son thread is Cold in July’s prevailing archetype of the Underworld. Here Hades offers up its Plutonian cache of death, physical and identity burial, the local Mafia, revenge, prostitutes, secret contracts, and hard-core criminals, including serial killers.
You’ll route for these guys to get back above ground.
Astrology Film Rating: ♇ (Pluto)