Jug Face (2013)
Written and directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle
Produced by Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino
Cinematography by Chris Heinrich
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:21)
I’m not sure where or how I heard about Jug Face. I think it popped up as I was researching something else, but I was intrigued enough to request it through interlibrary loan. You have to understand that I’m not a huge horror fan, so when I looked at the cast on the movie’s DVD cover, I thought I recognized the name Larry Fessenden, but I couldn’t think of any of his films. (I later saw that Fessenden has made many films, including an astounding 26 movies since Jug Face, to say nothing of his work in short films and television.) I did recognize Sean Young’s name, but I figured it was some other Sean Young. To be honest, I got so caught up in the film, I didn’t even recognize her until the film was over. That’s because Jug Face is a film that’s so good it’s easy to get caught up in it.
As the film opens, we see a young woman named Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter, in an outstanding performance) being chased through the woods by a boy named Jesseby (Daniel Manche). From their clothes and accents, it’s clear we’re in the South. It’s also clear that Jesseby wants Ada and vice versa. “Not here,” Ada tells him, but her protests don’t last long. They quickly have sex, setting up what we think is a scenario we’ve seen dozens of times before, but this one has a twist. (It’s not much of a spoiler, since it happens in the first few minutes of the film.) Jesseby and Ada are brother and sister.
That’s definitely a problem, but Ada’s problems are just beginning. Her small backwoods community has a history of arranged marriages and Ada is to be “joined” to a local boy named Bodey (Mathieu Whitman).
Both Ada’s mom (Young, right) and dad (Fessenden, left) accept this as the way things are, since this community’s life and well-being revolve around and depend upon the messages from “the pit,” which demands human sacrifices from time to time. One of the ways the locals know whom to sacrifice is through the local potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers), who receives visions from the pit and crafts clay jugs with the faces of those to be sacrificed next. As Ada’s luck would have it, her face comes up on a jug.
I’ve told you enough and perhaps too much, but don’t worry, you’re still in for plenty of surprises. The biggest surprise, however, is in how expertly writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle brings his material to life without resorting to tired cliches and conventions. It starts with the setting: this community exists in its own world with its own rules that may be whacked out, but they’re consistent and the people in that world believe them. This helps make what could’ve been a group of laughable characters believable, but they’re also well thought-out, carefully constructed people who are clearly accepting (and maybe even comfortable) with this way of life, firmly grounded in its truths. Yes, Jug Face exists in its own world, but it’s a world that could be found just about anywhere (not just the South) where people live in isolated communities. So is there really something to the pit, or is it just superstition? Watch the film to find out.
Jug Face feels authentic and that authenticity comes not only from the handmade costumes by Michael Bevins, but the extraordinary actors in the film. Kinkle also is not afraid to go where most horror films would not go. I can’t tell you much more about that without spoilers, except for one comment: I watched just a bit of the DVD’s “making of” supplement and discovered that Kinkle created what looks like a pretty elaborate special effect/costume that is only tangentially used in the finished film. The effect must have cost a lot of money, yet Kinkle felt that showing the entirety of it hindered the film, so it went largely unseen. I highly, highly respect that decision. Lesser directors might’ve said, “Screw it, I spent all this money – the shot goes in the picture!” Kinkle made the right decision. The final product is more horrific, more suspenseful, more effective.
Again, I’m no authority on good horror movies, but the ones that have stuck with me the longest are those that become real enough – or have a real enough connection with something that could happen – to make us uncomfortable. So many horror films give us scenes and situations that are so outlandish that we can distance ourselves from any tangible feelings of lasting horror or dread. There’s a place for such films and I frequently enjoy them, but Jug Face makes you wonder whether there may just be people out there like those in Ada’s community, people we might rub shoulders with at the grocery store, the bank, or even a Little League baseball game. Or maybe even at the edge of the pit…
I always hate hearing statements like, “This director has promise. One day, he’s going to make a good film.” Listen, this is a good film! Do yourself a favor and see it.
Photos: Diabolique Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Todd Kuhns, IMDB