A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cold in July is a crime thriller based on a novel by cult author Joe R. Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep). It has some incredibly bloody shooting scenes, plus fighting, stabbing, etc. But the most brutal part is a video that depicts men sexually assaulting a woman and then bashing her head with a baseball bat. The video is only partly shown on screen, but the reactions on the faces of the characters watching it tell the whole story. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch." There's one short scene of a topless woman. Characters drink a lot of beer throughout the movie -- always Lone Star brand -- and sometimes get drunk. The movie could pick up a cult following (certainly fans of TV's Dexter will want to see Michael C. Hall in this role), but the graphic material makes it only for mature viewers.
What's the story?
In East Texas, 1989, family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) wakes one night to find an intruder in his house. He loads his father's pistol, his finger slips on the trigger, and the perpetrator is dead. Life starts to go back to normal, until the victim's father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), starts hanging around, making indirect threats against Richard's young son. Things turn even weirder when Richard spots a mug shot and realizes that the man he killed isn't who the cops say he is. Worse, the cops seem to want Ben dead rather than in prison. To find out what's going on, Richard and Ben form a truce and call upon an old friend of Ben's, private detective Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson). With luck, this mismatched trio can get to the bottom of things.
Is it any good?
Genre director Jim Mickle generally makes horror films with a touch of realism; here, he ingeniously takes a classic crime story and adds elements of horror. Based on a novel by cult author Joe R. Lansdale, this turns out to be his best movie yet, a twisty, brainy, patient thriller with guts and imagination, as well as a few big laughs. Rooted in genuine human curiosity and empathy, it quickly and easily gets under your skin.
Mickle establishes a credible atmosphere, captured in wide swatches that seem to have all the time in the world; the camera gets many tasty little details. He also makes sure the late-1980s era gets a nod with a John Carpenter-like synthesizer score and the occasional hair-metal song. But best of all are the trio of performances by Dexter's Hall, a wounded Shepard, and a cocky, scenery-chewing Johnson. Vinessa Shaw is likewise excellent as Hall's wife, lending real gravity to that relationship.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Cold in July's brutal violence. What effect does it have? Does it cross the line? Who determines where "the line" is? How does its impact compare to what you've seen in horror movies?
Richard always tries to do the right thing but ends up in a huge bloodbath. Is he still trying to do the right thing? Is he a role model? What does he learn? What's accomplished? Is it worth the price paid?
Characters drink a lot during this movie. What's the appeal? When characters say "I need a beer," do they really "need" it?
Did the movie surprise you with its twists and turns? What did you expect would happen, and how did the movie turn out differently? Does it play upon your expectations?
- In theaters: May 23, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2014
- Cast: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard
- Director: Jim Mickle
- Studio: IFC Entertainment
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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