Cold in jUly jim mickle

After cycling through an array of horror subgenres for his first three features—the urban epidemic chiller Mulberry Street (06), apocalyptic vampire film Stake Land (10), and cannibalistic family drama We Are What We Are (13)—Jim Mickle remains firmly ensconced in B territory with this pulp crime thriller.

After family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, who subtly rides the line between put-upon patsy and entitled pariah) nervously guns down an unarmed prowler in his East Texas home, he becomes a target for the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard, revitalized), a leathery ex-con. When it becomes apparent that they’ve both been duped by a shifty sheriff (Nick Damici)—a cinematic species seemingly endemic to the South—the enemies become comrades in search of justice and moral order.

Rather than update Joe R. Lansdale’s 1989 novel, Mickle and co-writer Damici treat it as a period piece, saddling Hall with a mall-coiffed mullet and moustache, and populating the mise en scène with microwave ovens, corded phones, and Don Johnson (who, despite a grayed grizzle, has lost none of his cracker-barrel charisma). This flaunting of bargain-bin accoutrements doesn’t exactly match the grim stakes, but it does help to establish a sense of unpredictability and to make the story’s outlandish plot twists seem possible, if not quite plausible. Mickle may be just playing with genre, but at least he approaches it with vitality, inventiveness, and pleasure.