I first met Jim Mickle when he was in Chicago last fall to promote his family cannibal tale We Are What We Are. At that time, his newest Cold in July was only known to me an intriguing plot synopsis, but as Mickle shares below, it was in the middle of finding the form it claims now. The film stars Michael C. Hall as a family man who unexpectedly enters into the very violent and personal odyssey of his stalker (played by Sam Shepard). Don Johnson stars in the film as well, which features a killer 80s aesthetic, replete with warbling synths in the score, and White Lion's "Wait" blasting after a brutal climax. Mickle co-wrote the film with frequent collaborator Nick Damici, as adapted from the story by Joe R. Lansdale.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with him via phone for this new film, where we discussed the expectations he faced, his love for Matthew McConaughey and more.
Cold in July opens in Chicago on May 30.
While taking this film on the road to various Q&As, have you run into any people who specifically contest this film's impressions of masculinity?
No. I thought there would be, and I kind of prepared myself for it. One of the things I did though, I never owned a gun, I had fired a gun, but I actually bought a rifle just to have it, and to know what it's like to sleep with a gun. I wanted to explore what it means to have a relationship with a gun, and what that means to one's life.
Did Michael C. Hall's character of Richard always have the mullet when you envisioned him?
No. That was his decision, which was really late in the game. He said, "I'm thinking about adding in a mullet, what do you think?"
Among the film's many great era aesthetics, 'Cold in July' features an aisle-by-aisle view of a video store. How long did it take to create that set?
It was there. It was a video store had tons of VHS tapes in the back that they were selling, or didn't know what to do with. It was an oasis. It's certainly hard to find any video stores, especially ones with VHS tapes.
Your last film was a remake of a cult hit. Now, you're taking on a different genre, which doesn't come with as big an inherent fan base. Did you feel less expectations on this new project because of this?
I think one thing that helped was actually shooting [Cold in July] before We Are What We Are came out. After we got out of Cannes with We Are What Are, we got into production for Cold in July and shot really quickly. But We Are What We Are is composed, and we went out of our way to create an elegant horror show. But this is way different.
I think mostly I felt pressure from Joe Lansdale; I wanted to show another side of him.
How much did this movie change in the editing room?
A lot, and more than the others that I've done. With We Are What We Are we changed a lot of things, but with Cold in July it used to be three hours long, and it worked. There were some really great scenes. Then we pulled out a couple of subplots that in retrospect were all the things that we had invented during the writing process to make a lot of notes go away. People would say, "It's not enough a thriller to be a thriller," or, "It's not enough of this to be this." But those were all the things that clearly had to go away. We had to lose a couple of big elements from the book that crushed me.
What about making this film made you trepidatious the most?
I would say the time. It was the weirdest thing; we optioned it in 2006 and then didn't actually shoot it until 2013. It was a long process of trying to put a movie together while making other movies. Up until then, I had been like, "Hey, we're going to make this movie," and then we make this movie. With Cold in July there were so many ups and downs, and then all of the sudden we shot it, and were on this deadline to deliver the film. There was a time when I was doing promotion for We Are What We Are, I returned after doing a press tour and they wanted to see my first cut. I told them, "I don't even know what movie we have." I haven't even had the opportunity to have that sort of relationship with the film yet. But I didn't feel trepidation, I felt confident about it.
Whose idea was the White Lion ballad ("Wait") during the end credits?
That was mine. That was my favorite song growing up, I just loved that song. And when we started to put the movie together we had like Hank Williams, and all these old classics. But then we got to the end and we wanted to give more of a seedy feel, so I just spent one day going through the film's big climax and trying all these great country songs, and I was like, "No, this is the summer of 'Pride' by White Lion!" Then we tried it out and we really loved it, and it would end this dude's summer.
How long did it take to create the video store?
It was there. It was a video store that had in the back had tons of VHS tapes that they were selling or didn't know what to do with. It was an oasis. It's hard to find any video stores, especially ones with VHS tapes.
Last time we talked, you mentioned that you were a huge fan of 'Reign of Fire,' and specifically of Matthew McConaughey. Well, he's Oscar-anointed now. Do you see his type of idea of masculinity fitting into your films?
Oh fuck yeah, he is one of my favorite actors. I always imagined McConaughey's character in Frailty when looking at Richard Dane. And I'm so glad he's been great because he has so many bad films, and I always had to tell people, "Come on, this guy's great."