Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle, 2013's Jug Face is a twisted tale of backwoods horror spun through a narrative that blends the worst of superstition and religion with a sort of inbred hillbilly-ish setting to create something unexpectedly unique. If you look at the cover art, it looks like maybe this is some sort of possession movie, they seem semi-popular these days, and in a way you could argue that it is, but Kinkle doesn't really play to convention here.
When the movie begins, we meet Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), a pretty doe-eyed young woman who has an incestuous relationship with her brother. She's part of a backwoods clan who worship a mysterious pit out there in the woods. This pit demands the occasional human sacrifice and the intended victim is notified that they've been chosen when a man named Dawai (Sean Bridgers), who essentially acts as the pit's mouth and speaks where it cannot, makes a jug shaped like his or her face. When Ada learns she's been impregnated by her brother, she also learns that she's the next victim. All of this comes into play around the same time that she is betrothed to Bodey (Mathieu Whitman), but in order for their wedding to take place and be sanctioned by the community she has to prove she is still pure.
Obviously not a virgin, Ada begins to panic. Her parents (Sean Young and Larry Fessenden) are taking this arranged marriage very seriously. She takes the jug from the kiln before anyone else can see it and stashes it out in the woods, burying it hoping that it will never be found. The pit, however, wants what it wants, or so it would seem. And convincing her kin that she's never laid with man before poses an entirely different set of problems for poor Ada. As the story progresses, things get increasingly twisted…
This is an odd one, but also a pretty engrossing one. Made on a modest budget by a first time director this is a well-structured story that keeps you guessing as to what's really going on in this seemingly completely insane community. You get the impression Kinkle is basing this off of something like the infamous White Clan out in West Virginia and taking it to a considerably more bizarre extreme, playing up their unusual religious beliefs and using that as the basis on which to mount the more horrific side of the story. This isn't the type of picture where things jump out at you and make loud noises and while it is definitely a ‘backwoods' story there aren't any inhumane machete wielding monsters stalking young vixens through the brush. Instead the movie keeps us guessing as to what the pit really holds, what or what isn't it capable of? Is there any merit to this belief system? When the bodies start falling, what sway does it hold?
There's an interesting air of tension and desperation here. The cinematography does a great job of capturing the impoverished environment in which this group has built their lives. The film is not without its flaws: more character development would certainly have helped and there are a few moments where, even at only a hair over eight minutes in length, the film feels just a bit sluggish. Overall though, this one works. The script and direction get much of the credit for that but Ashley Carter's performance can't be overlooked. She handles the physical side of it well, she's made up to look fairly innocent despite the fact that only moments into the movie we see her naked and sinning with her brother. This innocent look goes a long way towards making her sympathetic, she looks fragile and kind, like she needs to be taken care of. Kinkle is able to twist this into something else as the movie progresses and as it does Carter is able to ratchet up the lunacy you'd expect out of someone in Ada's shoes.
Jug Face arrives on Blu-ray from MVD, framed at 2.35.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This was shot on digital video in high definition so the transfer is as clean as can be. Detail and texture are both pretty good, color reproduction is generally very impressive and black levels are nice and deep. Shadow detail isn't always perfect but it is generally quite satisfactory. There are some scenes that lack a bit of depth and look just a bit flat but this would seem to stem back to the photography. There are no obvious compression artifacts to note nor is there anything in the way of edge enhancement or noise reduction to get in the way of what is, all in all, a pretty solid picture.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the disc is pretty solid. It should be noted that the closed captioning lags behind the dialogue by a few seconds in the first half of the movie. Otherwise, the audio quality is good even if a lossless option would have been preferred. Surround activity isn't bombastic but there are some solid directional effects here and there and the appropriately quirky score not only suits the movie rather well but also sounds quite bouncy and well positioned. Bass response is tight but not overpowering while dialogue remains pretty easy to follow even with some of the accents that the characters use. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided.
The main extra on the disc is The Story Of Jug Face which is a twenty-four minute long ‘making of' featurette that is made up of a selection of behind the scenes clips shot during the making of the movie and some cast and crew interviews. It's a decent look at what went into creating this odd story and it offers some insight into what those involved with the movie experienced while bringing it to completion. We also get an interesting six minute short film from Kinkle called Organ Grinder that is worth checking out. Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, static menus and chapter selection.
Jug Face is not your typical horror film even if it is firmly rooted in the genre. It's a strange picture but also well-made and quite tense. The talented cast and crew make this one work and if it isn't a perfect film, it's certainly a very good one and a picture that those who want something a little off the beaten path should seek out. MVD's Blu-ray release looks and sounds good and contains a few decent extras. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.