Dir.: Josephine Decker
Cast: Sophie Traub, Joe Swanberg, Robert Longstreet, Kristin Slaysman
USA 2014, 79 min.
Hired farmhand Akin is lusting after Sarah, the daughter of his employer Jeremiah. But she soon finds out that he is married and has a daughter. Still, she drives him crazy and watches him masturbate in the barn. Finally, he succumbs to her on a field, after she eats a frog alive. This is not the only strange aspect of Sarah, we often hear her voice-over, talking about a lover who is always close –but it is not Akin. We begin to suspect that there is more to the father-daughter relationship between Sarah and Jeremiah, and when Akin’s wife Drew comes to rescue her husband, all is revealed in a bloody showdown.
In Butter on the Latch Decker creates an unsettling atmosphere, again opposing poetic shots of nature with characters moving around suspiciously, seemingly having to hide a lot. But unlike her debut feature film, THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY has a much more structured narrative (even though the title is again enigmatic). And again Decker is not afraid to be rather daring (or silly, depending on the viewpoint): apart from the frog episode, Sarah’s alluring traps she sets out to catch Akin, sometimes border on the hilarious, and Jeremiah’s dark glowing eyes remind one of biblical characters in a religious history film. Still, Decker has enough talent to get away with it, creating a moody little B-Picture, which is (again) under 80 minutes, the length of the classic B-Movies of the forties and fifties. She also recreates an atmosphere of mild terror, leaving the audience always guessing.
Decker’s critics from the mainstream press accuse her of an amateur approach, but they forget that she has to deal with a budget, which does not cover even the catering costs of an ordinary Hollywood production. She has to make due with imagination and improvisation, and does this in rather an entertaining way. She holds the middle ground between the soulless formula products of Hollywood, and the often too worthy indie films, which can be sometimes a little tedious. Decker is certainly a one-off, only she could pull off a scenario like this one, keeping a unity of aesthetics and creating a dark universe, which has echoes of the best of Tourneur or Joseph H. Lewis, who used to feature women like Sarah: fragile, slightly deranged and with a brooding sexuality. AS
THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY | REVIEWED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014 | screening on 1 August 2015