Akin (Joe Swanberg) has taken a summer job at a remote farm owned by Jeremiah (Robert Longstreet), who cannot cope as well as he used to with the running of the place, though his pixellated daughter Sarah (Sophie Traub) assists as best she can. However, it is really only those two looking after the goats and other animals, so Akin should come in very useful – but is there something more on his mind that work? On driving up to the farm, before getting out of the car he removes his wedding ring and puts it in the glove compartment, why doesn't he want to admit to the pair he is married to Drew (Kristin Slaysman) and has a young son with her? Sarah is oblivious to this, but she is something of an eccentric, quite how eccentric Akin is about to discover...
Thou Wast Mild and Lovely was the second feature from actress turned writer and director Josephine Decker, and what do you know, it was an American indie so inevitably Joe Swanberg showed up. He was such a familiar face in these lower budgeted movies that he wasn't so much a mark of quality as he was a mark of how little cash there was to spend on the production, both in the works he directed and the ones he acted in, seemingly trying to break a record for the most appearances in such efforts if indeed one existed. Still, if you were having misgivings about his regular appearances, you could at least observe Decker had him well-cast here as a man out of his depth (as was the focus in the photography).
That was because in spite of those idyllic appearances and the manner in which the story unfolded like a tale of forbidden love - he's married, she's an innocent - we were actually in the territory of that nineteen-seventies favourite of the drive-in, the backwoods horror genre. If this didn't build up to full on Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Straw Dogs mayhem, it was in that vein, and Decker managed a satisfying atmosphere of danger and fascination in the location and those who peopled it. Maybe more in the character of Akin than in the viewer, as that obsession with having an affair no matter the odds was not as well translated to us watching when we could tell it was a very bad idea from the minute Sarah riles him into action by eating a frog.
Yes, poor little froggy gets munched and being a rather weird film this act prompts Akin to start smooching with Sarah with some determination, then turn her around, bend her over and have his wicked way. Whether this was consensual or not was not quite explained, and added that unsettling note of ambiguity to Traub's performance where you can kind of see what the attraction is, yet also why Akin should have kept his libido channelled in all that masturbation we watch him indulging in, and it's hinted Sarah watches him indulging in as well. Then she learns from Jeremiah, who appears to be taking all this in with some amusement, that he has noticed the tan line where Akin's wedding ring was supposed to be, but she doesn't outright reject him thereafter.
Decker appeared to be saying something about men who think they can bed as many women as possible, be they married or not, and not have to pay any consequences, but if so she was going about it in a very strange way, though often that's a good method of making it stick in the audience's mind, and she did contrive this to be hard to forget. When Drew shows up with toddler in tow, Akin would seem to be well and truly busted, yet there was a further twist, or turn of events rather, that suggests the whole farm was casting some kind of mind obfuscation spell that made everyone act like maniacs, or if not maniacs at least leaving their senses behind for the sake of some sensual pleasure. Indeed, the chiller element was more that loss of control than it was any acts of violence, though there was that too, making for a not quite horror, not quite thriller, but definitely odd experience that saw fit to include such asides as the passing of time as seen by a cow apropos of nothing but sheer style for the hell of it. Music by Molly Herron and Jeff Young.