Jug Face features Lauren Ashley Carter as Ada, a young girl who discovers that not only have her parents agreed to marry her off to their neighbor’s son, but is also next in line to be sacrificed to the faceless entity that provides her small backwoods community with…well, nobody seems to quite know what. But what follows is Ada’s desperate attempt to avoid her grisly fate with a series of questionable actions that will break every rule in the community and result in several needless deaths.
Jug Face, from writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle, is the sort of movie that offers up way more questions than it has answers to. In fact, it outright refuses to answer some of its biggest questions.
For example: Why does this entity force one particular member of the community to mold custom clay jugs with the face of its next handpicked victim?
Aside from providing a reason for the movie’s title, it’s nothing more than a convoluted gimmick that serves as a contrived narrative device. It serves the same purpose as a vote, or a strange mark appearing, or a lottery, or the village shaman speaking in tongues. It’s a theatrical rationale for why the main character is specifically the one in danger. But such gimmicks are usually straight to the point. Because it’s one thing to have a song and dance accompanying the virgin getting tossed into the volcano. But it’s a whole other deal for that song and dance to have been demanded, choreographed, and judged by the volcano too. Especially without an explanation for any of it.
And the questions aren’t just limited to some admittedly nitpicky details. The whole movie falls apart under any degree of scrutiny.
If Ada starts off already wanting to leave her backwoods life behind for something better, then why doesn’t she run off and do just that before her life is in danger? During the course of the movie, we see that Ada’s small community of southern stereotypes exists only a few miles away from an otherwise normal American town. Yet there’s no reason given as to why the movie’s central conflict isn’t resolved with a quick walk down the road, or a call to the local sheriff.
In fact, why do these people even bother to sacrifice their loved ones to this evil entity, generation after generation, instead of just packing up camp? From what we’re shown, the community doesn’t actually gain anything in exchange for their murderous devotion. At one point, we do see how the people of the community can be healed of ailments if they bathe in the pit where the sacrifices are made. But it isn’t as if anyone is immortal, or even goes their life not knowing pain or illness. All we see is a fever being cured. Otherwise, these people are poor, uneducated, and left to rot in squalor until the next mandatory sacrifice. And at that point, it would seem relocating and visiting the local pharmacy would be a viable alternative to ritual sacrifice.
Under the right circumstances and in the right hands, ambiguity can be a powerful tool at a storyteller’s disposal. It can add some mystique. It can allow the audience to go crazy with their own imagination rather than constraining it. It can even help patch up a few minor holes or bridge a few logical gaps. But what it can’t do–what it shouldn’t do–is exist in place of proper structure.
If the community worships and kills in the name of a blood-thirsty spirit, then there has to be a coherent, rational reason for it. They do it because their lives are in danger. They do it because it grants them some great gift in return. Maybe they even do it because they like it. Whatever the reason, it has to inform why the rest of the movie happens. It has to give us reason to care.
Unfortunately, Jug Head confuses ambiguity with incomprehensible. Things just sort of happen, and we, the audience, are supposed to shut up accept whatever that might entail regardless of how little sense it ultimately makes. And while such a lazy, antagonistic approach to a story can work, it also reduces the actions of its characters to those of raving madmen and total idiots. Because everyone in Jug Head could live happily ever after if only they’d just walk away from this incredibly localized, wholly immobile evil stuck in some ugly corner of the woods. It’s one thing to yell at the screen while the pretty “Final Girl” of a slasher movie makes stupid decision after stupid decision. Such characters are usually presented as being wholly consumed by fear. Their terrible decisions are logical and consistent with those of someone in a total panic. But it’s a whole other issue when you’re frustrated with a movie because there is no internal logic for the audience to follow. It’s a whole other thing when you’re watching a bunch of cartoonish yokels living in fear of being sacrificed simply because they’re too lazy or stupid to move, or even visit the local pharmacy.
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Now that all having been said, Jug Face isn’t without it’s merits. Because if you can get past the many issues Jug Face fearlessly and defiantly wears on its sleeves, you will find a movie filled with strong performances and some genuinely unsettling moments. The scenes focused on Ada’s interactions with her emotionally, morally, and ethically twisted family frequently pushes the boundaries of what many might find comfortable to watch, such as when Ada mom decides she’s going to personally test whether Ada is still a virgin. Had Kinkle invested more time in showcasing the emotional and physical abuse a young woman faces in an out-of-touch community willingly cutoff from modern sensibilities, rather than piling on vague rules and mythology, Jug Face would be a far more terrifying and compelling experience.
If you’re looking for something a little different, a little darker and more interested in exploring ideas than in explaining much of anything, Jug Face might be worth sacrificing an hour or so of your time. Maybe. But for as “not terrible” as the movie might in a few notable ways, Jug Face is still not particularly “good.” And it will likely be too half-baked and shallow for most. And for that, it’s also a NO CHILL.