2013’s Best Horror
Killer premise, killer themes…
I’d given up on 2013. Other than the superior and atmospheric remake of MANIAC, the surprisingly far better than expected DARK SKIES, and the coolness of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, the year was pretty bleak for horror. After all, the EVIL DEAD reboot lacked character, THE CONJURING was an over-rated cliché ridden tale, and MAMA was devoid of substance. Even worse, the mega-hit WORLD WAR Z was so family friendly, the zombies left their victims with glorified love bites. Aww…
Then, I received this DVD for preparation of my THE LAST KNOCK end of the year show with Jonny Numb. We hadn’t heard of Chad Crawford Kinkle’s JUG FACE, but as soon as the credits started to roll, we knew we had something special: Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Sean Bridgers made up the acting stronghold. More greatness came with Lucky McKee, director of MAY (2002) and THE WOMAN (2011), as producer. Most captivating was the music of Sean Spillane: a droning, alternative rhythm reminiscent of something Angelo Badalamenti might create if he had post punk rock sentimentality. The movie grew from there.
JUG FACE tells the story of Ada (Carter), a young woman growing up in a backwoods community in Tennessee. But her life’s in danger due to the trappings of an otherworldly pit, and she must escape.
Normally, when one hears “backwoods” and “Tennessee,” assumptions of crazed and stupid rednecks may arise, but Kinkle avoids the tropes and pitfalls of such ludicrous over-generalization. Sustin (Fessenden) is not only Ada’s attentive father, but a sensitive community leader. And those in the village seem to respect each other in a mutual manner. Due to his pottery making talents, the slow Dawai (Bridgers), who may have a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, is left to his own devices.
The pit, however, sits at the heart of the community, and it is the uncanny force that holds sway over all who reside in the village. A feminine vessel, the pit is vagina-like in its red clay and blood enriched bottom. The mother from the bowels of the earth that gives birth and takes life. A mother to be feared and respected, but never really loved.
The role of the feminine in JUG FACE is quite strong. Yes, the community has a traditional male leader, and even Ada’s mother, Loriss (Young) advises her daughter to follow her man. But Loriss maintains a strong, matter-of-fact presence in the community, and treats her children as if she is the supreme ruler of their collective domain. Ada, however, incorporates many of the same trappings of her mother: independence and not one to bow down, though Ada is more passive-aggressive. The difference between mother and daughter is this: Where Loriss has a strong sense of community, Ada is selfish. Thus begins the young woman’s journey in JUG FACE.
Chris Heinrich’s exemplary cinematography enhances the world created by production designer Kelly Anne Ross. One of the most profound images is that of jug maker Dawai in his shack. The place is bare bones and dark, yet light comes through the walls from little holes. The rays shine down on Dawai as he crafts, as if he’s receiving word from a god in a sparkling Universe. In this case, a female deity no doubt since he produces clay jugs, another feminine vessel. But he doesn’t just create jugs to haul moonshine. At times, he may be called to the pit to extract its red clay to prepare a “jug face,” which will undoubtedly change the face of the village.
As Dawai, Bridgers is absolutely remarkable, which is in direct contrast to his role as the psychopath father in THE WOMAN. Bridgers loses himself in the role as a Zen-like figure with an emotional attachment that ultimately effects the lives of others. Fessenden, Young, and Carter also immerse themselves into their respective roles, which leaves us with a wonderful, dramatic horror whose imagery creates depth and substance.
Kinkle moves JUG FACE along at a steady and revealing pace with rhythmic precision. Better still, he makes one care for characters that we never really get a chance to know, which is a feat unto itself. Quite often, background characters are so forgettable they are like redshirts in a STAR TREK movie, but not with Kinkle at the helm.
JUG FACE is loaded with surprises, and there is much to be amazed by as the mystery unravels. The only problem with the film, if there is one, is the notion of “the shunned,” which could have been incorporated in a less supernatural manner. The film was creepy enough with a stationary pit having so much power over its “herd.”
Regardless, JUG FACE resonates, and one can only imagine what the first-time director will bring us next. Therefore, don’t fall victim to the over-hype for the mundane. Take the road never before traveled and indulge in a unique horror tale that will follow you for days.
4 out of 5 stars.
(Photo from Imp Awards.)