The film Jug Face was brought to my attention by a good associate of mine with similar taste in both films and literature. They figured I’d at least get some entertainment value out of what they termed “skillful writing” and the “interesting blend of concepts” that the film contained. Having never heard of the film but being intrigued by what’s gotta be the oddest title for a horror flick I’ve ever heard, I figured, what the hell? Thus, I worked the hinges of my faithful La-Z-Boy and eased back to check it out. I was pleased to find that I agreed with their assessment.
Ada is a teenage girl somewhere in what appears to be the Deep South, living out in the sticks in a small, tight-knit community of a few like-minded families. Ada is at that age where she’s exploring boundaries; the boundaries of how far she can push her parents, her sexuality, her maturity. She’s a bit on the promiscuous side, yet still maintains a platonic, sweet relationship with the local potter, Dawai; mildly autistic, lonely and browbeaten. However, Dawai has one particular skill that is of the utmost importance to the community; y’see, this little backwoods burg, cut off from the hustle and bustle of our modern society, has maintained a very, very old arrangement with something…else. Something that seems to live in a pit in the woods…something that keeps the people healthy and safe…for a price. Whenever the Pit calls, Dawai goes into a trance-like state and creates a special pottery piece; a jug, depicting the face of the community member that the Pit wants…and whatever the Pit wants, the Pit gets. Just after she finds out she’s been committed to “join” with (their version of arranged marriage) another of the townsfolk, Ada goes to visit Dawai and discovers that it’s her face on the newest jug. Rather than consign herself to her fate, she hides the jug, keeping its existence secret. We, the audience, know that that’s not the only secret she carries, but as days pass, the Pit makes its displeasure known. As the terrible punishment it wreaks upon the people begins to compound, Ada begins to question her upbringing and beliefs, but will she be able to escape the ancient fate her ancestors bargained for?
Writer/Director Chad Crawford Kinkle crafted an economic but effective tale of backwoods horror that pushes several boundaries, counting on familiar stereotypes to establish the setting and characters, then promptly turning all of that on its ass to catch us when we’re not looking. It borrows from films of the past, yet is still quite original and fresh in many ways. The story comes outta the box like Rod Serling’s version of To Kill A Mockingbird, but quickly evolves into something dark, relentless, and somehow ancient; it has a certain vibe about it, like something Lovecraft might have written had he been raised by a struggling Mississippi tobacco farmer rather than a successful New England businessman. Reinforcing this is the well-maintained atmosphere of an extremely secular life, secrets kept in a microcosm of society that stretches back into what we modern folks consider mythology; it begs the question of whether or not the supernatural still walks hand-in-hand with the more isolated (either by geography or choice) of our neighbors, whilst we “civilized” folk have simply forgotten it, or perhaps just replaced such spirits with the new gods of Reality TV and P90X.
The acting is of a much higher level than I expected from the film; Lauren Ashley Carter in the lead role of Ada turned in a marvelous performance, giving us a character that is selfish and unsavory in many aspects, yet her passionate desire to escape from the world she feels trapped in begs our reluctant sympathy. Sean Bridgers’ character is one of the most pitiable yet admirable I’ve seen in a horror flick in quite a while, lending a self-sacrificing martyr to the tale to offset the seemingly conscience-less Ada.
The rest of the supporting cast, from the wonderful indie staple Larry Fessenden to the unsinkable Sean Young all populate the tale with a believable community of hillbilly cultists. The film boasts Robert Kurtzman as it’s special makeup supervisor, and although the FX are limited, within the scope of the film they’re effective. I’ve heard complaints that too little is seen, but contrary to some of my contemporaries, I myself found that a benefit. I think that this flick would have really become irrevocably devalued by trying to be an “effects film”; likely, it would have devolved into a crap “monster movie”, and lost all of it’s thematic power. There is a particular effect I could have lived without (you’ll know it when you see it), but it did have its contribution to make to the story. Another beef with the film I hear a lot of is the ending; it seems everyone just hates the ending. Well, I’m not going to give it away, of course, but personally I found the conclusion very appropriate. I really can’t think of any other way it could have ended that would have been satisfying without becoming a complete farce…of course, that’s just me.
I really liked this little indie flick, friends. It’s not a perfect film; I can’t say I haven’t seen better…but I’ve definitely seen a lot worse, especially for a first-time feature from a director like Kinkle. In my opinion, he’s crafted a film with the right balance of dread and drama, giving you characters that come across as real people, with real failings, and placing them in a situation where you care for them because of that realism; it’s a dark fantasy that you can still relate to.
I know there’s people that won’t agree, and I wouldn’t have it any other way; but keeping my own counsel, I gotta say you should check this one out if you get a chance…it’s an excellent example of how to do an inexpensive horror film that can stand on its own legs.
And that’s what I think of this one, Fellow Fans.
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