It’s no accident that the events in the thriller Cold in July take place during the 1980s.
The main character, after killing a home intruder, faces off against both the fallout from that act as well as possible police chicanery. It’s a test of character, of masculinity, that hearken back to the Reagan Era.
Director Jim Mickle says the film’s source material may have been published in 1989, but the film version’s heart rests with an ordinary man’s personal crisis. That forced the production to resist updating the hero’s story for modern times.
“He’s never been tested. He sees this opportunity to figure out how he measures up,” Mickle tells Breitbart News. That sentiment existed in Joe Lansdale’s book of the same name. The film, available both in select theaters and VOD, brings it to the fore, Mickle says.
Dexter’s Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, a family man who shoots the intruder in the movie’s opening moments. The act changes his life. Friends treat him differently. The father of the man killed in the break-in, memorably played by Sam Shepard, starts haunting his family. Richard knows the actions he takes next will imprint not just on him but also on his child.
“A father must model for his son … and follow his own moral compass, even if the law isn’t quite on his side or is doing the right thing,” says Mickle who previously directed the critically acclaimed horror films Stake Land and We Are What We Are. Consider small, almost mundane scenes where Hall’s character stoops to clean up the mess left behind by the killing.
It’s a father taking care of his home and family. Finish what you started.
Cold in July features murder, vigilantism and the pull of family bonds. The story takes some serious twists, which the director says made it a particularly hard sell.
“I didn’t have a big enough name [to help sell the movie]. It also didn’t belong in one genre … it wasn’t an easy pitch,” he says.
Mickle also struggled to cast the role of Ben Russell, the father of the man who dies in the opening scenes. Shepard’s character is a complicated soul, a thug who clings to his own brand of morality.
“We wanted to play him down, dialogue wise. He’s very talkative in the book,” he says. “He’s defining himself with his actions, which is what a character should do.”
Not every actor agreed with his take on the material.
“Other actors said, ‘I just don’t get it,” he recalls. When Shepard flew out to Santa Fe, NM to explore the part with the director he immediately grasped the character.
The film’s ’80s connection reveals itself in many ways, starting with Hall’s mullet-esque hair. Mickle says films changed in the 1990s, and he relished the chance to tell a story that reflected an era before that transition.
Filmmakers working in the 1980s could make “unabashedly fun thrillers, southern noir,” Mickle says of an era before the Quentin Tarantino wave hit Hollywood. And, along with it, a need for ironic storytelling that often pulls the rug out from under a bare bones drama like Cold in July.
“It’s hard now to do those old-fashioned stories without needing a wink and a nod [and some]some self awareness,” he says.