Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jug Face (2013) ~ The Pit Wants What It Wants

Movies about "backwoods horror" seem to be a dime a dozen these days, with films that echo the feel of Deliverance with dashes of The Hills Have Eyes peppered it's hard to find something that is truly different within that sub-genre.  At first glance, Jug Face may not really catch your eye as something unique, but after viewing it I've pretty much decided it's the most original film I've seen at least all this year.

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle has created a tale that besides fitting into the horror genre really gives us a slice of life that most of us thankfully aren't privy to and perhaps even have a primal fear of on many levels.  Many of us consider ourselves poor - complaining that we don't have enough money to take that vacation to Jamaica or even to make this month's rent.  But I'm talking destitute here. Not enough food to eat.  Defecating in a bucket.  Washing clothes in the local river by hand.  Scraping up road kill off the highway for dinner.

In the poverty-striken back woods of an unnamed location (could be Tennessee, could be eastern Georgia...who knows?), several families make up a community that live by their own set of rules and principles. Strangest of all is their primary focus on what the "pit" wants.  Yes, a real pit.  A hole in the ground with a deep, percolating puddle of muddy goo that apparently speaks to one of the townsfolk, demanding human sacrifices on random occasions to keep the little colony of residents "safe". Said resident is Dawai (Sean Bridgers, The Woman), who has a keen understanding of what the pit is asking for and in turn makes a jug face - quite literally he crafts a piece of pottery with the face of the requested sacrifice on it.

Because they have dwindling numbers, there is little to pick from in the gene pool as far as mating goes. Hence, that is perhaps the excuse we are to believe when we meet Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), who is shamelessly attracted to Jessaby (Daniel Manche) - whom we are soon to find out is her brother.  One of the first scenes is the two of them having sex against a tree, and it's obvious (before we even know their connection) that the tryst is forbidden.  And even though we should be repulsed by the copulation, for some reason it just doesn't seem that awful. 

Once we meet Ada's parents - the hardened Loriss (Sean Young) and community leader and lead moonshine-maker Sustin (Larry Fessenden, a legend in the genre!), it's obvious that Ada has a rough time. She is their only daughter and has been promised to one of the only men left to choose from - a chubby dolt named Bodey (Mathieu Whitman). As preparations are made for their "joining", Ada finds out two things. One, she's pregnant with her brother's child. And two: she is the next ritual sacrifice.  She finds the jug with her face on it and promptly stows it away in the woods, hiding it so it cannot be used. 

Dawai, the maker of the jugs, is sweet on Ada, and when the jug comes up missing he says nothing and crafts another, this one with the face of Bodey.  But the pit will not be fooled. And that's when things go terribly awry.

I hate to give away more plot details, as the story itself is sparse. But meager as it may be, it packs a punch in the short running time.  There are frights in here that have nothing to do with the ominous pit of death.  In one scene, Lorris is determined to make sure Ada is still a virgin and hasn't disgraced the family before her joining. She forces her to sit on the toilet and spread her legs while she does an exam ten times more thorough than the gynecologist ever thought of.  And as Ada hesitates and squirms, her mother burns her inner thigh with a cigarette.  And the scene when Sustin and Ada are in town selling their moonshine to a local store -Sustin stops to pick up a dead possum off the road for supper....Gah!

Most of us cannot imagine living like this. Without our comfortable houses and apartments, countless mobile devices, that new Jeep Wrangler, and a drive thru at Taco Bell in our lives it would be unthinkable.  To scrape together a dinner of roadkill and a romp with a sibling? Unheard of.  These are the things that made me the most uncomfortable watching Jug Face.  Oh yes, there is blood. The pit demands sacrifice to keep things in the community in line, and when we do get that there is some nice gore for the blood-hounds out there. 

And it is in these moments that I though it was the only place where the film slipped a little bit.  The sacrifices are "told" to Dawai - and later through Ada - by a seizure-like possession, in which the camera shakes and we get characters with milky eyes and screaming.  There is also a ghostly character that the community has named "the shunned one" that in my opinion could have been completely eliminated and the film would have still worked.

There is much to be said about the truly excellent performances by the lead roles here.  Lauren Ashley Carter is perfect as Ada, a down-trodden teenager with no future but a big heart.  Scenes in which she cares for her mute grandfather are touching and yet difficult to watch due to the reprehensible conditions the old man is living in.  I can't imagine Carter not having a nice career in front of her. Her unusual yet pretty features make her like the girl next door. (Albeit maybe the anorexic book-worm next door, but you get my drift.)

And you can certainly tell Fessenden had fun with this one.  The man behind such films as Habit, Wendigo, and The Last Winter didn't let low budgets hold him back from playing the role with flavor.  Additionally, both Sean Young and Sean Bridgers were flawless in their portrayals of the callous matriarch and prophetic lunkhead, respectively.

Part of the film's charm, if we can call it that, is the fact that the characters aren't caricatures of backwoods hicks. Of course there is the obvious "village idiot" language that screams hillbilly, but the people are genuine, not freaks ready to cut your heart out if you cross onto their property. You can feel honest sympathy for them and the gloomy lifestyle that they lead because regardless of their tax-bracket, they are earnest in their poverty and never once take on a woe-is-me attitude. They just accept life as it comes. Oh, and they worship and live by the rules of a supernatural pit of doom.  But hey, to each his own.

I'll be interested in seeing what Chad Crawford Kinkle has in store for us next.  It's obvious his heart and soul went into Jug Face, and if his next idea is as original as this one, we should be in for a real treat.


Jennifurla said...

I think this one might be ondemand, I keep passing it up. Maybe I'll give it a watch

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

I've kept this movie in the back of my mind as a "must watch this when I get the chance" movie ever since I read your review. Well, I just watched it and loved it! It was really very fascinating and original, like you said. Thank you for letting me know about this one, Christine!

Christine Hadden said...

Hey Michele,

You're very welcome! Glad you liked this one! I thought it was really unique - and I'm a big Larry Fessenden fan so that made it all the better.
I love it when I find a great new voice in horror - I'm hoping for good things from this director in the future!

Thanks for stopping by!!