I love a good horror movie that makes no attempt to pander to an audience by trying to crowd please or be the same as everyone else. What we have here with Jug Face is a film unique unto itself. If you want to find anything that is like it then you could say Blood on Satan’s Claw or maybe at a push The Wicker Man, but seeing as its set in some backwoods part of the USA maybe its got a bit more of The Village in it, but better obviously.
Here’s the story as best as I can say without ruining it: A teenage girl, Ada, in a weird backwoods community (or is that backward community) in Tennessee, decides she’s had enough of the life she’s leading and wants to run away. This is partly because she’s been told that she has to marry the much older Dawai (a strange and entertaining Sean Bridgers) as is the way of marriage around these here parts. Providing she is still a virgin that is. Complications arise because not only has she been having it away with someone she really shouldn’t, she also suspects she might be up the duff too by that said someone. However this is all the run of the mill stuff for life in a poor and isolated town in the middle of nowhere. The real problem is that Dawai has a “gift” – he is the community’s potter, and during weird black out moments he makes jugs with people’s faces on them. Whoever’s face appears on the jug has to be sacrificed to a monster living in a boggy pit near the village. Ada figuring her life can’t get much worse, decides to have a look at the new jug in the kiln and you can guess who’s face is on it.
The rest of the picture is mostly about how things spiral out of control as she tries to prevent herself being sacrificed by her own family. These kind of sacrifices are generally for the greater good of the community, but this bunch of borderline feral folk really don’t deserve anything good happening to them. Vicious, grubby and fanatical they all deserve to end up down the bog (gy pit). Worst of the bunch has to be Ada’s mother, who I didn’t realise until about two minutes before the end was Sean Young. She is a violent psychopath who will beat and torture her daughter without a second thought. Young gives it her all, chucking, thumping and slicing up Ada in pretty much every scene. She’s like Carrie White’s mum but without the chat about “filthy pillows”. And she’s pretty good too, although her character isn’t developed much so we don’t know why she’s so horrible to her daughter. Maybe she’s just annoyed she hasn’t got a TV so can’t watch reruns of Bladerunner.
Lauren Ashley Carter plays Ada and she’s terrific with her big sad eyes and desperate demeanour. And thank god she’s good because the weight of the film, and the selling this odd story, really falls on her shoulders. It might have a monster in a pit, but this story is about Ada and her dream of freedom from this nightmarish Life. America is a big, big country, and it still has that pioneering spirit in many parts of its many states. There are all kinds of weird (and sometimes wonderful) communities, forging their own way in the world, not living by “normal” standards. Well in the movies there are anyway. But these people are not so much pioneering as self destructive, ruining any chance they have at happiness by their own hands. And Ada, with her kind, probably too kind, nature deserves some relief from this.
If there is one thing that lets Jug Face down its that (SPOILER) we never actually get to see the creature in the pit. I presume it is meant to represent the rule of law in American society: that in order to keep an American dream alive then certain sacrifices must be made, for the good of all. When Ada manipulates the law her own end, by hiding her jug, others die because they are following a law that has been corrupted. Their weird society has lasted this long because everyone has followed the rules, it nearly collapses when when someone doesn’t. I just wish we got to see what slobbering beast that rule manifests itself as. There’s a weird spirit child of the forest in the mix too but I’d rather get a good look at a monster in a hole than a boy in a loin cloth any day.
Okay so after all that I have given away a lot that happens but hopefully not too much. Its a weird little film. Obviously the budget is waaaaaaaaaaay low (maybe that explains a lack of monster) but really that’s often where the most interesting films can emerge. Plus, this odd story has got lots of committed performances, not just from Carter and Young but also Bridgers and Larry Fessenden as the dad amongst others, and that makes it all the better.
I’ve never been freaked out by jugs before, I usually embrace them, but the ones here are pretty weird, but still definitely worth a little look.