A low-key backwoods tragedy set in Depression-era Texas, “Tom’s Wife” recalls indie heartland dramas that proliferated on fest circuit two decades ago. Writer-director Alana Cash’s sincere and austere feature vividly conveys period flavor, despite obvious budgetary limitations, and showcases a strong lead performance by Meredith May. But dawdling pace, derivative plot and lack of satisfying dramatic fireworks will limit pic’s appeal to venturesome fest auds and indulgent cable viewers.
Annie (May), a naive woman still in her late teens, runs a small farm while her moody husband Tom (Kit Wannen) works on a far-off oil rig. Alternately abused and ignored by her cloddish spouse, Annie relies on best friend Twila (Shasta Lusk) while enduring painful childbirth, domestic violence and chronic loneliness. Virtually a prisoner, Annie attracts sympathetic attention of Jake (Cameron Cash), a traveling peddler who gradually — rather too gradually — rekindles Annie’s long-dormant passions. Some stretches of down-home dialogue ring false, and contrived finale relies too heavily on violence by minor, late-introduced character. But Jessica Gallant’s color lensing is exceptional, and May’s thesping is understated yet affecting.