A horror film set in the backwoods that DOESN'T involve pretty white tourists or a number after its title?
Count me in.
Quick Plot: Somewhere in the woods of southern America lives a clan of semi-civilized folks practicing a sort of He Who Walks Behind the Rows-esque faith. We learn most of the details in a hauntingly beautiful credits sequence that displays oil crayon drawings narrating the families' history.
Some time in the past, people were dying of smallpox. Naturally, the best solution anyone could find was to have one of its citizens craft moonshine jugs in a trance state. If and when the potter produced a jug that bore the face of someone in the community, it was deemed that The Pit--which is exactly what it sounds like, minus the sociopath teddy bear, trollogs, and obnoxious little boys--wanted said model's blood. Said model had his or her throat slit over The Pit, and smallpox was eradicated.
Traditions die hard, but they die harder than John McClane's attitude in the backwoods of Tennessee. In the present day, these, well, juggalos, of a sort, continue to live by the rules of The Pit, occasionally sacrificing one of their own when the current potter Dawai (played by The Woman's Sean Bridgers in a role that couldn't be further from his misogynist patriarch in that film) matches his creations to a resident.
This is, as you might expect, a problem in a small interwoven community where there can only be so many jugfaces for so many jugs. Young Ada (played by another Woman refugee, the wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter) learns this the hard way when she discovers she's next for The Pit. Complicating matters is the fact that she's also been set to 'be joined' with the only male around her age who isn't related to her, and further by the fact that she's a few secret months pregnant with the baby of the only male around her age who IS related to her.
Move over, Bella Swan: this chick has REAL problems.
Running just over 80 minutes, debut filmmaker Chad Crawford Kinkle's Jug Face tells a tight story while creating a much bigger world. We don't get a detailed history of this community--they don't even a name, come to think of it--but Kinkle's skill at fleshing out their world without flourishing it is incredibly impressive. We don't NEED Ada's fascinating but silent grandfather to flash back to previous generations. Everything that matters exists in these characters' faces.
It's here where Kinkle demonstrates a lot of talent, not just in his storytelling efficiency but also in his casting. Carter has one of those faces that every director should love, with deeply expressive eyes that can convey layers of history without dialogue. Ada isn't necessarily a likable character; her choices lead to the death of several innocent characters, and she continues to make them even after she recognizes this. In another actress's hands, Jug Face would be a tough film to connect with. Sure, we're on Ada's side because who wants to have their throat slit over a bloody hole, but when you think of the greater good, should we be?
Jug Face was made after it won a screenplay contest, and it's easy to see why. In the realm of rote American horror, this is an original tale. The film has some weaknesses (primarily in the final execution of some of its more supernatural details) but overall, it succeeds at being engaging, disturbing, and most importantly, fresh. It's such a pleasure to be able to say that.
It's always nice to see horror's fairy godfather Larry Fessenden onscreen, and he does not disappoint here. As Ada's father, Fessenden gets to create a fully rounded character in playing both a responsible community leader deeply devoted to his faith, and a genuinely caring dad charged with making some truly awful decisions
There's a jug band musical sequence that involves spoons and washboards, and it is fabulous
So without spoiling anything, at some point in Jug Face, there's a ghost and it's just as cheesy as you really don't want it to be
No man will ever get to bear babies
Always know where the red paint is stored, particularly if an engagement is in your near future
The only thing worse than being jug faced by your friend, whipped by your dad, and impregnated and abandoned by your brother is having Sean Young for your mom
Jug Face isn't a great horror film, but it's so fresh in its premise and strong in creating its universe that I'm simply thrilled to recommend it. It also benefits tremendously from an outstanding cast that takes the film seriously, something you don't always find in the lower budget realm of horror. It's now on Instant Watch and well worth that quick 80 minute stream.