An effective and atmospheric backcountry horror film has a family who worships something in a pit that heals them when they are ill but which also requires human sacrifices. Chad Crawford Kinkle writes and directs a very atmospheric and unusual horror film. There is some violence, but primarily it is a dark mood piece with some poetry.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
SPOILER WARNING: The premise of the film unwinds very slowly. It takes a while for it to reveal all I say below.
From the opening titles of ‘Jug Face’, we know we are in good hands. Under those titles we see pictures of a backwoods community rendered in what looks like chalk folk-art. There is also a picture of what we will come to know as ‘The Pit’. The pictures are cryptic, but raise just the right questions for the viewer. They also introduce the audience to the mood of ‘Jug Face’ and mood and atmosphere are most of what this film is about.
‘Jug Face’ is a kind of horror film we do not get much of any more. There is a little action, but the film is much more situation than it is conflict. There is a minimum of special effects. Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle takes the time to develop his characters and gets a rich tone from setting. That setting is the back woods someplace, possibly Appalachia or the Ozarks. This is Moonshine country. Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is frightened, not by the apparent supernatural going on around her, but by the natural. She fears she is pregnant. Her life was bad enough with her parents arranging her marriage to a repellent local boy. But worse the guy who has been hitting on her, the father of her possible child, is her older brother. This may be a problem that The Pit cannot fix. She can expect no help from a domineering and less than supportive mother (Sean Young) who treats Ada little better than an animal. Ada is so desperate for an escape from her problems that she may try to get help from The Pit.
What is The Pit? We cannot be really sure. It is a large hole in the ground in which something may live. Either The Pit or what lives in it has the power to heal the sick and to protect the community but it exacts a heavy price in return. It requires blood sacrifices from the people that it helps. The Pit has its own peculiar way of telling the locals who is the next sacrifice, from which we get the title.
Ada’s father is played Larry Fessenden. That name may be unfamiliar to some readers. Fessenden makes horror films that are short on budget, certainly short on special effects, but long on character, atmosphere, and setting. His films include ‘Wendigo’ and ‘Last Winter’. In ‘Jug Face’, he is credited only with acting, but the film owes much to his style. The other casting surprise is Sean Young who epitomized the 1940’s Joan Crawford chic look in ‘Blade Runner’. A little older and heavier, here she is a dead opposite as Ada’s mother.
Kinkle uses lush forest sounds and Chris Heinrich’s cinematography to give a naturalistic hinterlands feel. This might be the same region where Debra Granik’s ‘Winter’s Bone’ was set. The feeling of isolation just adds to the atmosphere. This is a place where a new pagan religion might be founded with nobody in the outside world noticing.
In lesser hands, the plot could have been ludicrous. Instead, we have a very unusual exercise in Southern Gothic that transforms an absurd plot into dark and poetic horror territory. I rate ‘Jug Face’ a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) 2013 Mark R. Leeper