Directed by Jim Mickle, Starring: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw. Thriller, US, 2013, 109mins, cert 15.
In cinemas from Friday 27th June 2014.
Based on Joe R. Lansdale’s multi-layered novel, director Jim Mickle follows up the highly regarded STAKELANDS and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013) with a gripping 80’s Southern film noir.
Having accidentally shot and killed an intruder in his home, family man Richard Dane (DEXTER’S Michael C. Hall) is reassured by the local sheriff that he acted in self-defence and that the intruder was a wanted felon. Still racked with guilt (the intruder was unarmed), he drives out to the graveyard just as the funeral is concluding. There is only one other mourner – the deceased’s father (Sam Shepard)...
This is a film which delivers three plots for the price of one. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the narrative is heading it shifts into an altogether darker territory. The opening chapter offers echoes of CAPE FEAR, with two relatively straight-played suspense set-pieces. But then the rug is gently but assuredly pulled from under both the viewer and our protagonist Dane, and the landscape twists into shades of BLOOD SIMPLE and beyond.
As the film continues to peel back layer upon layer, Michael C. Hall’s ordinary family man is pulled deeper and deeper into the film’s heart of darkness, until his initial desire to protect his wife and son leads him into having to make judgement calls upon which lives hang in the balance.
Shaking off his finely honed forensic psycho persona as DEXTER, Hall’s performance is engrossing and gives the film its emotional core. In addition, Sam Shepard delivers a perfectly pitched performance encompassing both understated menace and pathos. And then along comes Don Johnson’s almost film-stealing cowboy private investigating pig-farmer ‘Jim Bob’ who waltzes into town and acts as the ringmaster in the film’s final third ring circus.
Eschewing the first-person narration from the source material, Mickle and his long-time collaborator Nick Damici have fashioned a lean and taut screenplay which hones in on the story’s essence and strips away any fat from the bone. Mickle’s trusted composer Jeff Grace delivers a stunning synth soundtrack channelling Carpenter which throbs majestically in harmony to the ebb and flow of the story. The 80’s setting isn’t rammed down the throat (with the exception of Don Johnson’s intentionally hilarious gigantic ‘car-phone’), but is used more to isolate and pair-down the options available to the characters rather than to inject cheap knowing winks of nostalgia.
****(out of 5*)
This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.