Endearing is a weird word to use for horror movies, but it's an accurate one for independent and low budget horror movies that aren't lazy creature features or slasher flicks. Enter Jug Face, which opens at Magnolia Theater this Friday.
Ada lives in a backwoods community in an unnamed part of the country (though the movie is filmed in director Chad Crawford Kinkle's home state of Tennessee). The movie starts with her running through the woods with a guy who we learn is her brother only after we see them having sex. That's a problem for her because (on top of all the obvious) she finds out her family has made arrangements to marry her a pudgy guy who seems equally uninterested. If he realizes she's been deflowered then the deal is off and she's in trouble. Also she's pregnant.
Protecting the community is "the pit," a job handled by a mud hole. The pit keeps everyone healthy in exchange for an occasional sacrifice. When it's hungry, it takes control of one person and makes them sculpt a jug with a face on it. Whoever's face it is gets their throat cut over the pit. The sculptor goes into a trance and doesn't know who's on the jug until it comes out of the kiln, so when Ada peeks into the kiln she's the only one who knows that she's the next jug face. So she steals it.
Ada tries to flee and the pit goes on a killing spree, attacking unsuspecting forest-folk and dismembering them. Maybe. It's hard to tell because the death scenes are filmed as a series of extreme zoom-ins on body parts or blood spurts, a signature technique of SyFy Channel original movies.
Jug Face is a bad movie to watch if you're looking for resolution, or Pacific Rim-esque monsters. Or any monsters. But Lauren Ashley Carter as Ada and Sean Bridgers as Dawai, the jug sculptor, are both compelling. And it's a moody film, with beautiful cinematography that somehow manages to make daytime seen creepier than night.
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Moody and beautiful cinematography aside, moments like the pit attacks make it hard to ignore Jug Face's budget. But the most frightening moments have nothing to do with the pit or its maybe-monster. The movie has truly unsettling scenes. Like when Ada's mother checks by hand to see if her daughter is still a virgin, and then tries to torture her lover's name out of her by slicing her knuckles with a straight razor. The scene is less graphic than this description implies but is nonetheless chilling. It's a reminder of how much horror your brain can produce when given a little prodding.