“Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” Is A Subversive Masterpiece



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Posted September 18, 2017 by

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Recently, I purchased a Shudder subscription, on my Amazon Video. When I began to explore the titles they had available, I noticed they had a lot of horror/thriller films I had missed over the recent years. There were at least a dozen movies I had been dying to see, and for one reason or another had not been able to. So, I got to work with the goal of putting at least a small dent in my “To watch” list.

One of the first films I watched was Josehine Decker’s 2014 thriller “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely”. I have always liked her as an actress, and she caught my attention as a director in 2013, with the dreamy “Butter On the Latch”. Knowing nothing about “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely”, other than that it starred Indie icon Joe Swanberg and at 78 minutes it would be a quick movie watching experience, I sit back and hit play. What I watched was something akin to a perverse poem made into a nightmare… and I mean that in a good way.

The film first introduces us to Jeremiah (Robert Longstreet), a rough looking farmer, and his daughter Sarah (Sophie Traub). Decker immediately lets us know we are in for an emotionally bumpy ride, by showing the father and daughter rolling around in the grass and tossing the blood-stained body of a decapitated chicken at each other. The playfulness between the two seems neither innocent or sweet. It is an uncomfortable affection, in which the viewer is constantly aware that something ain’t right.

After that disturbing sequence, we meet the new farmhand that Jeremiah has hired on for the summer. Akin (Joe Swanberg) is a quiet man. He has a wife at home, but lies about it when Jeremiah asks. Right away we see that Akin is attracted to Sarah, and that this attraction displeases Jeremiah for unsaid reasons that come off as jealousy rather than fatherly protectiveness. Sarah notices Akin’s gaze as well and, being starved for male attention that isn’t her father’s, begins to lure him in with seductive behavior. Decker does an excellent job at building painful tension in moments where there should be none. Even scenes of the trio quietly sitting and chewing their food seem horribly uncomfortable and explosive.

The cast are all up to the task as well. Longstreet’s Jeremiah is really the only one with an abundance of dialogue, but what Swanberg and Sophie Traub’s characters lack in spoken word they make up for with intense stares and body language that is louder than anything Jeremiah is shouting at them. Decker and co-writer David Barker deftly build tension by introducing new elements to their creepy story throughout the movie’s run time. Jeremiah’s off-putting family and Akin’s wife and friend show up, just when you think you have a grasp on what you are watching, and add a whole new level of discomfort.

“Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” is difficult to watch, but so are films like Blue Velvet and Dogtooth. And, just like those films, Decker’s is an impressive accomplishment. Viewers will have to be patient with some of her techniques, but if they are the payoff is worth every bit of dealing with the film’s almost cruel abuse of one’s sensibilities.





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