Sunday, November 24, 2013
Jug Face (2013) ~ The Pit Wants What It Wants
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.