Jug Face (2013) - Sometimes ideas for independent horror there is a crystal of an idea that has to be cut and polished up to be a gem. When that happens the buzz is palpable in the horror community, with everyone seeing and reviewing, and others talking the movie up on their podcasts. When that happens even the smallest of film making companies might recoup the cost of their endeavor, hell they even might make some money for the next film. We love it when this happens, its what keeps the independent horror scene alive and vibrant. Unfortunately there is another side where that crystal pretty much stays what it was, its pretty and has its own value but there may never be a demand for it. This is the case with the film Jug Face, it has its solid structure and an idea worth exploring but it just never quite shines.
Soresport Movies may be in the minority when it comes to this film as there have been some glowing reviews on it after it came out last year. (looked after wrote this review so apparently saw this differently than many.) The film is a small budget affair and the gore a minimalist variety that get the point across without costing the film makers too much budget. Bloody water, sliced throat effects and some scattered body parts give the impression of horrible savage violence without actually having to show any. Cloudy eye contacts also make serve a purpose to cue the audience to what is happening. Advertized as a "character driven" story one has to wonder if the person who wrote that copy watched the film since the story arc of the main character is really small and centers around an inevitable decision to accept responsibility for her quite reasonable decisions. My daughter Joy joined me in the viewing as I have been trying to get her to watch horror in a way that would allow her to contribute to this blog. She watched but very quickly tuned out and played on her phone. Multitasking is a behavior her generation does but I was surprised at how quickly the tune out came. At the end of the film her first response was "That sucked." I tried to steer the conversation to what she liked or didn't. In the end the most I got out of her was:
1. You never see the monster and it is never explained what it is or why the people would make a deal with it.
2. The main character is not very likable, she fucked things up for everyone.
3. The special effects sucked.
Now I agree with her to an extent but I also felt that there was some value to this film. The plotting structure is well done. It leaks the story of these people a bit at a time until at the third act you know what the full picture is. Some things did not make sense to me though, and maybe the second watching will clarify my questions. A pretty good cast Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) as the main character, Sean Bridgers as Dawai the potter, Larry Fessenden as Ada father Sustin, and Sean Young as her cruel mother. First during the images accompanying the credits we see the story of this community, a group who has given up on the existing organized religion that was in place but now instead prays to a pit of muddy water. We see them sacrificing their minister to the pit and later images of community members bathing in the pool at the bottom of the pit. We learn later that in the past during a smallpox epidemic ( maybe the big one 1775 - 82?) the people figured out how to make a deal with an entity in the pool in exchange for a sacrifice every now and again the pit provides healing waters. Now this deal when you think of it as a solution in the 1700s seems reasonable and it truly did become the religion for these people. When a sacrifice is wanted by the pit it puts "the sculptor" into a trance and that person creates a jug with the face of the next victim. The community then gathers and sacrifices that person at the pit. Now though we see in the film that the people in those hills have trucks and cars and interact with the town nearby selling moonshine for cash. So although presented as isolated the insular nature of the community does not cancel the fact that health care is readily available in the civilized world. So really the thing that keep the arrangement going with the pit is that it has become a sacred relationship. To me it seems that the arrangement of killing one of your own so others can be healed is stupid when you can drive in town to a hospital. Talk about death panels the pit is a one entity death panel.
Second I question is around the choice to make the main character unlikable. Ada is the main character and the plot is driven by her decisions. I think as a way to define the hill people as isolated we see Ada and a young man playing in the woods and having sex. Then we learn they are brother and sister and the whole thing is fucking creepy. Not just that it perpetuates stereotypes about hillbillies but come on really the film has to go there that early. Later when we see the size of the community you have to wonder if resorting to incest was really necessary or just a gimmick. It all fits the plot though and like I said earlier the pieces of information are well structure so we learn more of the full story as the film progresses. Pregnant from her brother and promised to another man she finds the jug face of the next sacrifice and it is her. Her story arc is that she hides the jug face with horrible consequences for all. She must come to her decision to take responsibility before too many innocents are taken by the pit. Since escape from this community is never presented as a achievable option we know what she will have to do, its just who will have to die before the guilt gets to her enough for her to act.
Helping her along the way is a ghost who is trying to convince Ada to return her jug face. He is a shunned one, a soul that can't rest because it was taken from the pit and as punishment for not fulfilling a sacrifice. The device is to give expository dialog to fill in the mythology but I am not totally sure that it works since the "why" would it communicate question is never really explained.
It is not really a happy ending film and you really expect anything good to come out of it. Instead you can marvel at the hill freaks who believe stupid shit and suffer for it. I am not sure that I am ready to give this film a recommendation I am a bit on the fence. Written and directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle, It is certainly well thought out and the idea of an alternative religious centered group is okay. I just think that there was no outside the community characters to bounce the sanity of the belief system off so it just comes off as an acceptable way of doing things for these characters, when lets be honest it is not. I wished there was more money for special effects there is a problem when you have a monster but never get to see it. I wish the vague agreement this group had with the was more clearly explored because honestly the reasons for killing loved ones did not seem very strong. So I will pass on recommending this film. Note I am in the minority if you look around the internet.