“JUG FACE” (Slamdance Movie Review)
There’s a weirdness to the circumstances of JUG FACE’s plot that doesn’t quite take hold of the entire film. That is to say, a bit disappointingly, that a movie about prophetic pottery, incestuous pregnancy and a pit that demands sacrifice is a lot more of a straightforward horror picture than it sounds.
“The pit wants it wants,” is repeated throughout Chad Crawford Kinkle’s rural fable. It’s no coincidence that phrase resembles another; just as it’s no coincidence the pit itself reminds one of a heart. Red, in the center and dictating just how this village operates, the pit demands blood once a year it seems, taking possession of a simple potter and outlining the face of the chosen on a jug.
Being a longstanding tradition, the town is sober, yet exceptionally accepting of its annual immolation. This is part of the film’s success in looking at the horrors of inevitability. When young Ada, betrothed to another and pregnant from her brother, discovers she is chosen, all effort is pushed toward avoiding certain fate. When certain fate isn’t satiated immediately, it takes others in her place, building a path of blood and guts until it reaches its target. Ada hides her jug face, stuffing the secrets of her pregnancy and illicit affair within. Meanwhile, those massacred by the pit are now shunned, forced to walk as ghosts in limbo.
One ghost in particular often appears as a reminder of what doesn’t exactly work in JUG FACE. Aside from the genre familiarity of its limbo/shunned state dead, visually the ghost is where the film’s seams show the most. While JUG FACE is clearly on a tiny budget, it’s never bothersome until the frankly cornball appearance of the dead is revealed. Additionally, Ada is privy to visions of the pit at work. Her line of sight into the murders, colored and chaotic, turns out less psychedelic than possibly intended. These rough patches though are slightly alleviated thanks to grounded work from JUG FACE’s cast and Kinkle’s own depiction of this small community.
A store owner from the nearby modern-living town tells his employee not to get involved as “there’s weird things happening in those woods.” He’s right, but it’s not the fault of Ada, or her Pa, or anyone who came before them. Ada, her family and fellow townspeople aren’t insane, nor are they unreasonable, vicious backwoods folk. They suffer from a cruel deity and somberly recognize their need to serve it. Larry Fessenden (director, THE LAST WINTER) takes on the role of Ada’s father and is often an understanding, empathetic presence. His sternness only progresses in light of the worsening of their situation.
If not a novel story, JUG FACE is certainly colored in with strange, unique details, making it nicely not so tiresome. Kinkle makes a smart choice in never revealing the pit creature’s visage, with no monster battle either. After all, JUG FACE resonates because the film’s creature isn’t so frightening, but the responsibility we must take in unavoidable darkness is.