Fathers, Hoods: Cold in July

05/21/2014 4:00 AM |

Cold in July
Directed by Jim Mickle

It’s not very funny, but this genre-bending, actually thrilling thriller still feels like a classic episode of The Simpsons, just because it ends up in a totally different place than it began. In the process, it runs through a trilogy’s worth of tortuous storytelling; every time you think you know where it’s headed, it swerves, busting cliches even as it navigates the familiarly sordid milieu of a Jim Thompson book, the sort of cynical pulp fiction in which the “bad” guys are better than the “good,” an East Texas full of mafia informants, snuff films, police corruption and coverups. It all starts simply with a mulletted and mustachioed Michael C. Hall (subverting the stoic vigilante archetype with quivering vulnerability) in bed with his wife, who wakes him up because she heard a noise; he goes to investigate, finds an intruder, and kills him, firing in a moment of high anxiety. His finger slipped. Then the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard), fresh out of jail and back in town, starts Cape Fear-ishly stalking Hall’s family, including his young son. And that’s just the half of it—or, literally, a third of it. (Hall is being set up, and he owns and operates a frame shop! Heh.)

Director Mickle exceeds as a stylist, a crafter of moods; his apocalyptic vampire feature Stake Land was most memorable for its end-of-the-world settings, his We Are What We Are remake most notable for its sustained melancholy. The best parts of this movie—besides Jeff Grace’s John Carpenter-esque score, which lends the film a grimy 80s edge—are the sanguinary details: the bucketful of bloody water from a cleaned-up crime scene flushed down a toilet, or the blood-sprayed light fixture that bathes a room in red. (Someone’s been watching his Nicolas Winding Refn! Or Dario Argento.) Mickle and his regular collaborator, writer-actor Nick Damici, have always had a tougher time with characters, so they’re smart here to work with strong material like Joe R. Lansdale’s source novel (rather than their own ideas in Stake Land or the tiresomely mopey script of the original Somo lo que hay), which is so densely plotted it allows the action to define the people that inhabit it. What emerges from this collaboration is something thematically primal, alternately soaked in sun and rain and blood, a movie about the different responsibilities fathers bear vis-à-vis their children: to keep them safe from the world, yes, but also to keep the world safe from them.

Opens May 23 at IFC Center