And here. We. Go.
Cold In July (2014)
Director: Jim Mickle
Southern gothic is alive and well in this independent, seedy little crime drama. It’s a throwback to the great B-films of the 1970s, and well worth watching of this sort of thing is your bag. This movie is a good companion film to No Country For Old Men, in that both take place in 1980s Texas.
The plot: An average guy named Richard Dane hears a prowler in his house at night and confronts him. His gun accidentally discharges, killing the intruder. Instead of feeling relieved, he is tormented by guilt, which only gets worse the more everyone tells him how much of a hero he is. Then the burglar’s father shows up (Ben, played wonderfully by Sam Shepard) and starts to threaten Dane.
Although you may think this is headed into Cape Fear territory, you’d be wrong. This is a very effective meditation on the darkness and corruption that lurks just underneath the surface of things in the small-town South. Dane plays the outraged, wronged everyman very well; he just can’t stomach the bullshit of small-town life any more, and never misses an opportunity to let the people around him know it.
Just when you think you know where this plot is headed, it gives you a head-fake and goes off in an entirely different direction. Let’s just say that the rabbit-hole goes deep, very deep, and the discoveries that are made are not for the faint of heart. The acting here is what makes this one worth your time: Sam Shepard plays a great ex-con with a sense of honor, and screen veteran Don Johnson (yes, that Don Johnson) has a great part to play as well. Johnson is the epitome of onscreen cool and it’s good to know he’s still making movies. We could use a lot more of him these days.
The Invitation (2015)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Another independent movie here, but this one’s in the thriller-horror genre. The plot: average guy Will is driving through the Hollywood hills with his girlfriend to the home of his ex-wife (Eden) for a dinner party with her and her new husband (David). That in itself might seem a bit odd, but hey, this is L.A., right? Whatever.
We soon learn that David and his ex-wife had a son together who died in a tragic accident. An ominous portent (somewhat heavy-handedly) enters the picture when the two motorists hit a coyote and have to kill it. Things get even more strange when they arrive at the ex-wife’s house. There’s a strange assortment of characters there, some old friends, and some not.
Everyone is acting in that sicky-sweet, fake sort of way, and Will is instantly put on guard. But there seems to be darker currents lurking beneath the surface that are more sinister still. What’s great about this film is that it really puts us in the positions of the two main characters, and forces us to ask ourselves: what would I do in this situation? When would I get up and get the hell out of a house full of weirdos?
The weak points here are the somewhat unbelievable reactions of the characters one the night starts to take a nosedive into wacko-land. Eden and David show everyone a demented video, but instead of leaving, most of the characters hang around for Round 2. It’s not very believable behavior, and little things like this threaten seriously to undermine the credibility of the plot.
But hold your horses. I’m going to recommend you see this anyway, because the film’s merits outweigh its flaws. Everyone is creeped-out by cults and their rantings, and let’s face it: we still want to stick around to see how demented things get here. And believe me, they get very, very demented. Director Karyn Kusama does a great job with the pacing of the action, the set design, and the maintaining of a tense, claustrophobic mood, and deserves the credit for pulling this one off despite its flaws.
The final scene is great, too.