Oct 17, 2015
Day 17: JUG FACE (2013)
If I were the type to "learn" "lessons", I would have seen Jug Face months ago. But noooo! I'd pause on it when scrolling, but then I'd think "'Jug Face'? Come on now. And that Photoshopped cover, blecch. No thank you!" And I scroll on by, then watch something obviously superior like Hellraiser 65. I should know by now not to judge a film on the superficial marketing elements, but I continue to do so and I continue to be the worst. Oh well, maybe by the end of SHOCKtober the lesson will sink in forever...at least I was forced to finally watch Jug Face and guess what? I liked it bunches.
Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is a teenaged member of a small, rural community that prays to a muddy pit deep in the woods. If you're thinking "What? That's nuts, one should only pray to invisible sky daddies," well hold up, son, 'cause the pit gets shit done. Or, at least, the entity that inhabits the pit does. On occasion, the entity puts local simpleton Dawai (Sean Bridgers) in a trance, during which he molds and sculpts a clay jug that bears the face of the person to be sacrificed to the pit. No matter who it is–son, daughter, mother, father–the community gladly obliges because the pit keeps them safe and healthy. When Ada learns she is next to be sacrificed, she hides the jug in order to save her life and that of her unborn child. But she soon learns that this may not be enough, for "the pit wants what it wants."
Jug Face is a fascinating glimpse inside an insular community at its most pure. Unlike films such as The Wicker Man or The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, here we get no outsider's perspective. There is no stranger in these strange lands questioning the morality of the locals' beliefs. The pit simply provides, and its call must be heeded. Ada is an outlier in that her will to live is stronger than her faith in tradition–it's just a matter of which is stronger in the end. At its roots, it's a relatable scenario that people in plenty of walks of life may face: gay teens who risk being disowned by their parents should they come out, family members shunned when they choose another religion, etc. Should you choose the family and friends who choose their faith and beliefs over you?
Because of the subtleties in the script and the uniformly terrific cast, Jug Face never devolves into a stereotypical hillbilly freakshow. Family patriarch Sustin (Larry Fessenden) tries to foster a good relationship with his children while his wife, Loriss (Sean Young) (Sean Young! I know!) is harder and willing to do whatever necessary to ensure the family keeps to "the ways." It's sort of a pagan/horror-flavored Winter's Bone, and it works.
The film falters, however, when some supernatural elements are introduced, in particular the ghost of one of the "shunned", who appears in order to guide Ada. It's not terrible, but the "ghost voice" and CGI wispies are out of place and unnecessary in an otherwise grounded southern gothic horror story. These scenes are brief and far between, however, and this is really nothing more than a nitpick and overall, holy crap, Jug Face was a great surprise. Solid performances, a story that resonates, a bit of blood, and an ending that packs a wallop despite of–or maybe because of–its quiet, understated starkness. I should have watched this sooner! I bet there's a lesson in this somewhere.