Article first published as Sundance 2014 Movie Reviews: 'Blue Ruin' and 'Cold in July' on Blogcritics.
I saw two revenge-thrillers that were both brilliant nail-biters. Blue Ruin comes from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier — the man behind the cult favorite Murder Party — and the second sees the return of co-writer/director Jim Mickle (last year’s We Are What We Are) with Cold in July.
One is on his way to becoming a seasoned genre vet with no sign of
slowing down venturing from the Midnight section to U.S. Dramatic
Competition, and the other makes an ambitious leap forward from his
no-budget origins in the Next category. I can’t wait to see both of
features Macon Blair in a star-making debut as off-the-grid loner
Dwight who has just learned that the man who killed his parents has been
let out of prison on parole. In a fit of vigilantism, Dwight kills the
man in a bathroom stall and heads to see his sister Sam (Amy
Hargreaves). Little does Dwight know that the killed man’s family
doesn’t sit well with Dwight’s act of revenge and now Dwight, and Sam’s
whole family, are targets of the Cleland clan.
Full of nail-biting suspense and a finale that’ll leave you
breathless, Saulnier has concocted my favorite film of the festival so
far. Full of plot twists and welcome doses of humor, everyone is at the
top of their game for what could have been a minor blip of a film. Devin
Ratray nearly steals the show as Dwight’s long-lost friend, but Blair
more than carries the load and provides a true tour de force. Already
acquired by Radius/TWC (The Weinstein Company) after its debut at the
Cannes Film Festival last year, you’ll be able to catch this when it
releases on April 25. A must see of the highest order.
Jim Mickle’s Cold in July
is a film best shrouded in secrecy. It’s almost too bad it’s based on
the novel by Joe R. Lansdale from 1989. The story involves Richard Dane
(Michael C. Hall) who shoots a burglar in the middle of the night in
East Texas 1989. Richard is told he did the right thing and that the
perpetrator was named Freddy Russel. The next day, Sheriff Price
(co-writer Nick Damici) informs Richard that Freddy’s father Ben (Sam
Shepard) has just been released from prison. Soon enough, Ben comes
prowling around and the two men learn that there are far more sinister
things afoot, starting with the fact that Richard did not shoot Freddy
and is still alive. Now, Richard and Ben join forces to figure out
what’s really going on, calling upon the help of Jim Bob (Don Johnson),
wallowing into a string of shocking events.
Mickle provides his usual slow-burn effect for about the first hour
leading up to the union of Richard and Ben. From there, the twists keep
piling up and you’ll never guess where things are headed, or where the
road leads. Hall is fantastic as the working-class father in over his
head, with Shepard providing a sinister portrayal of a vengeful father
not scared to get blood on his hands. But it’s surprisingly Don Johnson
who barges in to steal the show. Jim Bob is a larger-than-life character
to be reckoned with, but Hall and Shepard manage to carry the weight
right through to the bitter end. Another shocking masterpiece from
Mickle should come as no surprise. He’s never done wrong switching gears
from his zombie debut (Mulberry St.), to vampires (Stake Land), to cannibals (We Are What We Are), to revenge thriller. Cold in July is just another log on the fire that is Mickle’s career and it’s burning brighter than ever.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute