Format: DVD Release date: 3 April 2017 Distributor: Kaleidoscope Entertainment Directors: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen Writer: Nick Damici Cast: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen
The follow-up to Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic vampire tale Stake Land is disappointing but there is life still in this undead saga.
It’s nice to see Glass Eye Pix building up something like a franchise, with star-writer Nick Damici staying on from Jim Mickle’s Stake Land and the Body team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen stepping in as directors. The first film offered an alternative to the many, many zombie apocalypses by presenting a vampire apocalypse. It also added the I Am Legend fillip of showing the last remnants of North American humanity besieged by zombie-like nocturnal monsters and equally dangerous lunatic religious factions (‘the Brotherhood’), as hints of malign intelligence suggest that there might be more traditional, calculating vampires out there. In this follow-up, the theme is only slightly developed with the addition of a vampire villainess, the Mother (Kristina Hughes) – should she get together with the Father, from Octane? – who has a grudge against Mad Maxy veteran vamp-hunter Mister (Damici) for killing her child (she’s a rare vampire who can give birth) and putting out her eye with an arrow.
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Wyatt Russell, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson
Set in the late 1980s, Cold in July starts with a masterfully directed scene, in which father and husband Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) accidentally kills an intruder in his living room. Richard has the cops on his side and faces no charges, but soon enough the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard) comes to town seeking to avenge his son.
Although the film starts in straightforward fashion and director Jim Mickle demonstrates clear abilities in economic direction, it gradually becomes apparent that Cold in July is not your average thriller but a camp bomb primed to explode. From the cinematography and cheesy electronic music to Michael C. Hall’s ridiculous moustache, the movie cleverly undermines itself, and the audience is not sure whether they should invest in the story or burst into nervous laughter.
For a time, Jim Mickle walks the fine line between the two modes more or less successfully, but the narrative detours betray him and reveal the film’s true colours. Somewhere after the halfway mark, it becomes clear that Cold in July is more of an 80s Carpenter homage than a stand-alone film with a coherent plotline. What begins as a gripping psychological thriller develops into a buddy movie and ends with an absurd bloodbath. In the course of the story, Richard goes from being the clear protagonist to a mere helping hand in the final scenes, and it’s Sam Shepard who takes the reins as the narrative’s most important character. The plot’s various twists and turns feel forced and unreasonable, and so do the characters’ motives. The second act’s slow pace doesn’t help, and despite its strong start, Cold in July soon becomes boring. Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (playing a silly, Tarantinian cowboy/detective) do a decent job and seem to enjoy themselves when the movie slips into buddy-movie territory, while Michael C. Hall’s unsure performance mirrors the fact that his character doesn’t have a goal to pursue after the middle of the film.
Even at their most outlandish, the Carpenter movies that are such a strong influence on Cold in July retained gripping plotlines and clear protagonists. By denying us either, Mickle makes it very difficult to care about his film. The continuous shift in styles, protagonists and storylines becomes tiresome after a while; the audience has nothing to grab onto, and there isn’t much of an emotional or intellectual point being made by these constant changes, apart from the message that Mickle likes to stuff as many different influences and genres as possible into a single film.
Cold in July works pretty well as a goofy commentary on other films and genres and it’s funny enough to be an amusing, rather than an annoying, failure. Judged on its own, however, the film is slow-paced, uneven and shallow. The effort might have been admirable but the film is plainly forgettable.
Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Kelly McGillis
Based on the film:Somos lo que hay (Jorge Michel Grau, 2010)
Based on the 2010 Mexican film of the same title, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is not so much a remake as an entirely new film revolving around the same premise. Jorge Michel Grau’s film was gritty and realistic, with a few staggeringly visceral, gruesome scenes. Through the portrait of a family of cannibals, it hinted at the brutality of survival among Mexico’s poorest, and observed the shifting family dynamics after the death of the father, mixing in intimations of incest and awakening homosexual desires.
Shifting the focus from this man-eat-man social jungle to the unquestioning observance of rigid, archaic beliefs, Mickle places the story within the context of American history, making the family’s cannibalism a twisted practice going back to the hardships of their pioneer ancestors. In so doing, he also switches the gender roles of the original. In Grau’s film, the men were nominally in charge, even though the women were by far the fiercest and most ruthless members of the family. Here, the women are the keepers of the ritual, and when the mother dies, it is up to the delicate, pretty blonde daughters to continue the tradition under the oppressive control of their tyrannical father, with their youth and innocence a shocking contrast to the grim acts they are forced to perform.
Replacing the muscular direction of his post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land with an eerie, dreamy atmosphere bathed in blueish tones, Mickle has fashioned a melancholy American Gothic tale set deep among bleak, misty mountains. Far less brutal and bloody than its Mexican predecessor, the film is surprisingly restrained and eschews showing any gory details until the explosion of violence that concludes the story. That grisly denouement jars with the rest of the film and seems unnecessarily excessive on first view, although it is perhaps needed to balance the muted sadness that dominates throughout. Regardless of how that end is perceived, We Are What We Are easily stands out among the dumb and dire remakes that relentlessly clog cinema screens. A thoughtful, intelligent take on the earlier film, it exerts a spellbinding charm that is all its own.
An earlier version of this review was published as part of our FrightFest 2013 coverage.
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