Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw) wakes in the middle of the night with a start, convinced she has heard somebody in the house, and wakes her husband Richard (Michael C. Hall) in fear. Shakily, he finds his gun and loads it, then creeps out of the bedroom down the corridor to investigate; when he reaches the living room he is terrified to see an intruder shining a torch at him and when the clock strikes the hour he is startled into shooting, killing the burglar stone dead. The police are called, and he is informed by the investigating detective, Ray Price (Nick Damici), there will be no charges since it was clearly a case of self-defence. Richard has his reservations, but apparently if a homeowner is frightened into killing someone then that counts as self-defence in the eyes of the law...
Director Jim Mickle's star continued to rise with his run of cult success as he released Cold in July, his most prestigious effort to that date as an adaptation of crime and horror writer Joe R. Lansdale's novel of the same name. That was more in the thriller mould than the horror, though there were undoubtedly allusions to the shockers Mickle was influenced by, yet don't go in thinking this was set to be an out and out gorefest, it was more measured and sinister than that. Not to say there was no humour, as a good few darkly amusing scenes were concocted, yet the overall mood was weirdly joyless, as if the mess Richard gets himself embroiled with after killing the burglar is the making and undoing of him simultaneously.
The lead character is not exactly a man's man, not because of a deliberate rejection of macho values, more because he has never been tested in that field, so when he is suddenly a male who has joined the exclusive club of protecting those he loves through claiming a life, there's a definite shift of perspective. We don't know what he was like before this incident since we were not shown, but we can guess, and Michael C. Hall offers a convincing portrayal of not so much a weakling reborn, a worm that turns or any of that Coward of the County cliché, but more of a man whose ethics have been tested by his own actions, and those actions thrust him into an underworld where the morals of others are in no way to be taken for granted.
With a plot that takes in many gear changes from family in peril yarn to vigilante action flick, at first Mickle appeared to be paying tribute to the eighties thrillers which would feature conservative values under threat, the sort of Fatal Attraction tale where an outside force for chaos sends events spiralling off in crazy directions. Except it's no spurned lover as the cause, it's the father of the man Richard killed, Russell played by a grizzled Sam Shepard as a grieving and elderly man whose motives are hard to fathom, yet appear to be a campaign of intimidation towards Richard in a lead up to an act of revenge against the Danes, in particular targetting the young son (Brogan Hall) who innocently wants to play with toy guns in a manner his father now finds appalling.
That was the key to the dramatic aspect, the American worship of firearms as a method of getting your way. Every time a gun shows up, be they revolvers or shotguns or even machine guns, Mickle is making a point that there has to be a better way of solving problems which Richard grows increasingly blind to over the course of the narrative. Lightening the oppressive mood, at least for a while, was the presence of Don Johnson playing Texan private eye Jim Bob Luke whose nose for a case invites him into Richard's investigation when he realises from catching a glimpse of a wanted poster that the man he shot is not the habitual criminal the cops told him he removed from society. So why would the lawmen lie, and if they are lying, to what end? Cold in July was confident enough to leave its plot threads dangling, managing a resolution of a type that had you wondering what could possibly happen once the end credits started rolling. With a neat line in recreating the eighties, even down to Jeff Grace's excellent synth score, this never settled, and that was in its favour.