Thursday, August 08, 2013

Jug Face: Hillbilly Death Cults and Outsider Art

Moonshine and pottery are a wicked combination.  One young woman living in a hillbilly cult understands that only too well.  She knows exactly what it means when the kiln tolls for her in Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face (trailer here), a Moderncin√© production which opens tomorrow in New York.

“The pit wants what it wants.”  In return, it cures members of the hardscrabble hill country community.  That was how their grandpappies survived the great cholera outbreak.  All that is required is a periodic sacrifice.  They will know who has been chosen from the special jugs the designated potter casts in a state of paranormal ecstasy.  Ada was supposed to be next, but she chanced upon her jug face before Dawai came out of his pit-induced stupor.  Stashing it in the woods, Ada is determined to live—not just for herself, but also for her unborn child.

Whose child would that be?  Take a lurid guess.  It is not Dawai’s, unfortunately, since he’s not a bad chap, really.  Nor is the boy to whom she is to be “joined” the father (a term that sounds uncomfortably Human Centipede like).  The answer will be pretty easy to guess, given general filmmaker attitudes towards rural border state residents.  Ada is definitely in for a hard go of things and the deadly visions she gets from the pit will not help.

Basically, Jug Face is southern gothic exploitation fare, which co-star and Glass Eye Pix producer Larry Fessenden certainly understands.  As Ada’s cult leader father Sustin, he is not nearly as loathsome or malevolent as one might expect.  He might even be half-human.  In the lead, Lauren Ashley Carter’s eyes are almost supernaturally wide.  Her Ada is also reasonably down to earth for a sheltered cult-child.  Looking not unlike Will Ferrell on a below average morning, Sean Bridgers finds surprising pathos in Dawai.  In fact, if it really were Will Ferrell, it would probably be his best performance ever.  It is hard to recognize Sean Young as mother dearest, but at least her off-screen persona does not distract from the on-screen action.

Evoking the spirit of outsider art, Jug Face’s opening credits effectively set an unsettling tone right from the start.  However, the pit is a little underwhelming.  It just gurgles a little and turns red from time to time.  Regardless, Kinkle really knows how to tap into coastal dwellers’ hillbilly phobias, without going the full Deliverance route.  Unfortunately, the climax is more of a deflation than a conflagration.  Still, those looking to shudder at ritual murder and Appalachian inequities will find plenty of fodder in Jug Face.  Recommended for Fessenden fans with a taste for hicksploitation, Jug Face opens this Friday (8/9) at the Village East.