Mocked by many for being a hodge-podge of genres and plot points, and with a tone that shifts so much it borders on reckless, Cold in July, directed by Jim Mickle, was one of the strangest films to be released last year. It divided people at will.
It won’t come as a surprise then, when I tell you that its music was just as odd and out of place. In fact, I daresay the soundtrack is arguably one of the bravest in recent memory.
Composed by Jeff Grace, who also worked on Howard Shore’s renowned Lord of the Rings score, the soundtrack’s strange tone is created using synth instruments, resulting in a collection that might sound jarring to many – especially when compared to the orchestral movements usually employed by modern motion pictures.
Indeed, the soundtrack is an 80’s time warp from start to finish – Cold in July is based in 1989 after all – though it’s still a hugely enjoyable ride even if you didn’t grow up with John Carpenter or The Human League.
Starting as it means to go on with Wait by glam rock group White Lion – a rollicking way to ease viewers in – the soundtrack quickly demonstrates its ability to balance an occasionally playful tone with darker and far more interesting themes.
Many of the tracks used adhere to a specific formula, with songs such as Intruder utilising the grating effects of static to shelter dangerous and sinister beats that are only revealed at the close. Ultimately, such use ensures the movie’s sinister underbelly is never far from the mind of viewers.
That recipe is also followed in Whole Lot Like You, which begins disembodied and distant before rapidly establishing a more stable and aggressive tone.
Horror themes are also a constant, with the fear inducing He’s in the House – seemingly a tribute to Halloween’s tinkling piano soundtrack – proving that sometimes less really is more.
In fact, He’s in the House‘s piano melody is so effective that it’s often sampled in other tracks such as Dane’s Cabin and Father and Son. Laced with poignancy, it’s a composition that effortlessly elevates Cold in July’s quieter, more thoughtful scenes.
Additional tracks Official Protection, Following Ray, Seeing Freddy, and Stakeout serve to mirror the film’s stop-start nature, combining fast and slow sounds with disorientating proficiency, while The Mansion, an able accompaniment to a warped, frenetic, and haunting finale, completes the set.
So far I’ve been full of praise for music mogul Jeff Grace, and while he’s earned every single drop, it’s important that I don’t overlook the help he had from synth outfit Dynatron: a band that continues to influence the growing Synthwave movement, and a group who contributed what’s arguably the most memorable track on the OST, Cosmo Black.
It’s also important that I answer any lingering questions you might have, as I’m becoming increasingly aware that some of you might now be wondering if Cold in July’s soundtrack is genuinely any good, or if it simply panders to those with a sweet tooth for 80’s nostalgia.
In all honesty, I might not be the best person to answer that. After all, I was pretty much sold on the film after hearing it borrowed liberally from John Carpenter.
What I can say with absolute certainty, however, is this: the soundtrack is not perfect, and it’s definitely not epic in scale, but those who dismiss it as old hat – merely a relic of an era that should be remembered, not revived – will be missing out on something genuinely special. Please, don’t fall into that trap.