Jug Face (2012) Is a Horror Movie, While Facejugs Is a Strip Club Activity

A Jughead is Archie's best friend who can't eat enough burgers, and a Jarhead is a nickname for a Marine. However, a Jug Face is something entirely different. The term generally refers to a tale of Appalachian pottery where an ugly face as sculpted into a jug that often contained moonshine or poison. In the instance of today's film, these same kinds of jugs are depicted as omens, and if your mug shows up on one, well, it's not a good thing. I actually got clued in on this movie by an artist friend of mine who specializes in making jug face pottery (and Goatse coffee mugs, best not to dwell on what that looks like), and it is my sincere hope that he never gets captured by a band of backwoods people who want to use him as their seer. Jug Face is at its core a backwoods thriller, but what it has to say about the dangers of blind devotion, well, it's a mixed message, but one I think doesn't get said often enough. So come with me while I explore whether Jugface had a good head on its shoulders or if it’s merely the pits. 

Lauren Ashley Carter stars as Ada, a young girl raised in a backwoods holler among a moonshining clan. The little band of families that live around her area all worship a mysterious pit in the ground, and when Dawai (Sean Bridgers), The Potter, makes a jug with your face on it, then it's off to the pit for a little good old fashioned sacrifice. Ada's is the next face that comes up on the jug, but she steals it away wanting to protect herself and the unborn baby inside of her. An attempt at running away only garners her more trouble and drags down Dawai as well when the sacrifices stop coming at regular intervals. Through confusion bred from backwards thought compounded by a blind religious fervor, more than the pit begins to claim lives. 

The script for Jug Face won the Slamdance Screenwriting competition in 2011 for writer/director Chris Kinkle, and on the screen, it is easy to see how the script's specific back woodsy voice could have had a singular and impressive sound. With a few exceptions, the execution of the script as a film succeeds as well. Jug Face is not easily comparable to other films. It delves into the same areas as The Wicker Man (Not the "Not the bees version.") or Red State, but there's no particularly recognizable overtones of any specific type of worship. It is hard to understand why the populace depicted in the film swears fealty to the pit, and the subject is never delved into deeply. In keeping the underpinning of the religion mysterious, it is easy to see it as representational of any group of zealots taking their beliefs to an illogical extreme out of devotion beyond reason. These are people who exist in a state that seems completely removed from society and status quo morality, and, as viewers, we are given a window into their world. It is shown and proven beyond dynamic change, and the horror is the existence of that world, those people, even more than the events that transpire. 

Jug Face is grounded by two solid performances. At first glance, Lauren Ashley Carter seemed such an unsubstantial thing that I hardly expected her to have the strength to make it from one scene to another. This waifish demeanor and the tender, innocent confusion she displays as Ada drew me into the character, and it was easy to see her as the lost among the lions. Carter had previously appeared in the 2012 bike messenger movie Premium Rush and Lucky McKee's The Woman, and I hope to see more of her in the future. She gave a strong thoughtful performance that deserves attention. The other standout was Sean Bridgers, who I recognized from his three seasons as Johnny Burns on HBO's Deadwood (and also The Woman). No one can summon up a bumbling, inept, backwards acting character quite like Bridgers, and thankfully he shared quite a few scenes with Carter which lead to a number of great scenes. 

There were a number of problems with Jug Face that kept it from fulfilling all the potential that was there. A number of the performances were uneven, and accents varied wildly even within the same scene at times. Spectral figures that appear look like they've been told to stand in shadows while fuzzy black tendrils stew on their sides. As the only piece of special effects, it was a shock that took me out of the experience each time. I not only had problems with the CG involved, but the very existence of visual supernatural elements diminished the film's central themes. Overall, Jug Face is a strong debut that showcases talent in the screen as well as a talented new director in Chris Kinkle. If you get a chance to see Jug Face, then I encourage you to do so, but if you see a face jug, remember it could contain either poison or moonshine (or both at once, that's a possibility), so you'll have to take your own chances with that. Jug Face is a sure thing. 

Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. Nearly saw this at a midnight showing during the Boston Underground Film Festival, but opted for sleep instead. Unwise choice! I really dig cultish, backwoods motifs in my horror movies, and it sounds as if Kinkle hit most of those beats on the nose (uneven accents aside). Definitely on my near-future watchlist. Great review!


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