Indy Film Fest: Cold Cross
A good old-fashioned Western revenge oater set and shot in Indiana, as a young shootist seeks revenge on the gang members who turned on his outlaw parents.
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Sometimes you just need a good old-fashioned Western oater, the sort of thing dripping with revenge, whiskey and plenty of hot-smoke gunplay. “Cold Cross,” the first feature film by Ball State University grad Dylan Query, delivers all that plus a handsomely made production with an Indiana-set and -shot backdrop.
It’s a movie that’s got plenty of “Unforgiven” and “3:10 to Yuma” in it, but also an element of existential journey that’s almost dreamlike in the photography and mood — I was reminded of films like “Days of Heaven” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”
It stars Jacob Stieneker, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Query and is co-producer, as William McCarthy, a 21-year-old shootist out for revenge against the former gang members who turned on his outlaw parents a dozen years ago. Despite his youth and babyface mien, McCarthy just can’t live with himself if he doesn’t set the scales of justice right.
To him, they were an extended family that always looked out for each other, as seen in an opening sequence where the gang rescues one of their members who was captured by the law and is being force-marched to his own hanging. Then 9-year-old William was an unplanned participant in the bloodshed, including the death of an old sheriff and his son.
It’s based on a previous short film made by Query, “Cold Creek.” It is set in Pike County, Indiana, and was also shot there with some additional filming in Kentucky.
Bobby Christman plays Felix Danberry, the twin brother to the son who was killed, who’s tracking William in his own parallel vengeance journey. He’s a scary, snarling presence, even threatening to blow the heads off any of his kin who would stand in his way.
We’re nudged to regard William as the “good” killer while Danberry is the villain, but as the story goes on their moral shadings start to color and blur. At one point, William guns down one of the former gang members who truly seemed to have reformed his ways, and we find our sympathy for his cause wavering.
Michaela Semak plays William’s wife, Jude, who tries to steer him away from his dour path but will eventually find herself caught up in the mayhem. Zach Meiser, Gerry Rose and Jeff McCuistion play the standout members of the gang William is hunting, and Greg Stieneker is the sheriff always one step behind as the bodies start to pile up.
The staging of the shootouts, stabbings and beatings is brutal but also kinetically sleek. William has a habit of cocking his single-action six-shooter in the holster when he feels violence is about to happen, and it becomes his signature totem.
He also gets at least as good as he gets, and by the end the man out for revenge has incurred plenty of damage to his own body. We wonder if he’ll even be physically able to keep moving, let alone pose a threat to others.
The cinematography (by Query) is quite imaginative and evocative, though obviously shot with a minimum of budget and cameras. There’s a lot of great throwaway shots that help build the mood — bodies of half-rotted animals, dusty footfalls, a long-legged spider crawling out of a whiskey glass. The production design and atmosphere have a soaked-in authenticity.
Some of the storytelling could use a little reordering or fleshing out, as I was occasionally confused about who was who or what their motivations were. It’s the sort of thing that could be addressed with a little more polishing of the screenplay on the front end or judicious editing on the back end.
Still, “Cold Cross” is a good-looking and engaging Western of the old school, based on the fallacy that a man’s honor is something worth dying — and killing — for, even when he has every reason to live.