by The Acolyte/Blaise Bienvenue
An indie horror film shot in Tennessee, Jug Face tells the story of young Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter of The Woman), who lives in a tiny forest community that sacrifices people to something called “The Pit” (basically a hole in the ground filled with what at first appears to be reddish mud) based on the work of a simple-minded potter named Dawai (Sean Bridgers of Deadwood) who wakes some mornings with “a funny feeling” and a compulsion to sculpt a piece in the likeness of a member of the community.
These pieces are the “jug faces” of the title; each one indicates The Pit’s next desired sacrifice. Ada happens to be friends with Dawai, which enables her to be the first to discover her own likeness on the latest jug face. In order to avoid being sacrificed, she buries her jug face deep in the woods before anyone sees it. Dawai either doesn’t remember who was on the jug, or doesn’t tell because he likes Ada; we’re not sure which. At any rate, when The Pit doesn’t get what it wants, things get ugly.
Having a story set in a backwoods community that involves incest, child abuse, abject poverty, and religious fanaticism, Jug Face threatens to be a film that exploits stereotypes; somehow, it doesn’t feel like one. It appears to be plot-based for most of its running time; things unfold gradually and at just the right pace that the viewer is neither confused nor bored. It has great acting (in addition to the principles, Larry Fessenden and Sean Young are excellent as Ada’s parents), a lot of tension, and a beautifully atypical musical score by Sean Spillane. Though Ada is doing something very selfish with a heavy toll, she is sympathetic because 1) she is not doing anything any of the rest of us wouldn’t want to and 2) she is actually not entirely selfish, since she is also pregnant and protecting her unborn child. She also cares for her invalid grandfather (the camper grampa lives in may be the first sign we get that the film takes place in modern times) and has bizarre visions of a naked, painted boy every time The Pit gets impatient.
The film is shot and realized quite well; it portrays some stomach-churning things nonchalantly and unexpectedly, but never lets the camera linger needlessly. At the end, it did not give me the exposition or satisfaction I wanted (one of the most reprehensible characters walks away clean) but instead left me with what I only then realized had been a parable about the nature of self-sacrifice. As such, it is clear as a death-bell and surprisingly gut-wrenching, having evoked emotional responses from me throughout the course of its eighty-one minutes. An impressive first feature from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle. Definitely worth your while.
– The Acolyte