The actor Michael C. Hall knows death. He had his breakout role in Six Feet Under as the closeted son David and then went on to play the titular serial killer in Dexter. In his newest role, in Jim Mickle's pulpy, twisty neo-noir thriller Cold in July, Hall plays a timid, mullet-sporting man so rudely introduced to death that he becomes a menacing gunslinger out for blood. Set in a sweltering East Texas town in 1989, Cold in July establishes its moody tone right from the beginning: Richard Dane (Hall) has shot and killed an intruder, which sets into action an increasingly violent chain of events. The story, based on a book by Joe R. Lansdale, packs in corrupt cops, confused identities, a so-called "Dixie mafia" that makes gory snuff movies with teenage girls, and, this being the Wild West, plenty of thunder and lightning and shotgun blasts. Sam Shepard shows up as the dead man's lean, lowering father, and Don Johnson has a gleeful turn as an unhinged pig farmer. None of it's particularly plausible, but Mickle still makes it unpredictable, and it's a treat to see Hall transform from a bumbling wet blanket in dad jeans—he'd be at the height of normcore fashion today—to a rifle-toting vigilante in a leather vest.

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SEE IT: Cold in July opens Friday at Cinema 21.