Hillbilly horror stories aren’t new. Culturally we place our collective fears on the outposts or wild places of the world. Films like Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, and a million other horror or horror adjacent movies work within this conceit. Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face (2013) operates in an in-between space, offering a strange mixture of horror, cliched backwoods religiosity, and inbred histrionics. In the small religious community of the film there is a pit which operates as an oracle that heals, at the price of a sacrifice. These sacrifices are foretold by Dawai (Sean Bridgers) who makes a jug face, a ceramic jug with the face of the next victim to be sacrificed. Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is sleeping with her brother and is pregnant with his child. She also discovers she’s the next Jug Face.
Ada decides to hide the jug to save her baby. This decision creates tension and upset as the monster, angered by not getting the proper sacrifice, starts killing its loyal followers. Ada sees through the monster’s eyes as it tears apart family and friends, her pupils coloring over with cataracts the shade of rotten meat. Jug Face offers an interesting comment on the nature of religion and how these rites harshly affect women. Ada is constantly intruded upon, whether its her brother’s violent advances or her mother checking to make sure she hasn’t had sex, she does not own her body. Ada, waif-like, always ready to receive a blow which she does again and again, is guilty of the radical act of claiming her baby as her own.
She pays a high price. Many people are killed including her brother and father, the man she’s matched with who Dawai makes a vessel of in order to protect Ada’s secret. Death follows Ada around, literally a blue-sheened corpse of others who have been shunned by the community, but also, a literal death that wipes out any semblance of family. Trying to escape with Dawai is no good, she’s caught and whipped in a brutal scene that alludes to the treatment of slaves. Losing her baby because of this beating, she is in fact a slave to the violent zealotry of the pit. Yet there is something that makes her stay despite having the opportunity to escape. Ada decides to sacrifice herself so the pit monster won’t kill Dawai. The sacrifice isn’t noble because the film makes clear Ada’s only purpose is this. Ultimately, Ada is a vessel that must be emptied of any individuality. Sacrificing herself for someone who takes part in the ritual that costs her so much, describes a kind of epistemology in which the only reason for a woman to live is in order for her to die.
In an anticlimactic scene, Ada’s throat is slit, her lifeblood running down into the pit. The muddy water churns red and the monster is satisfied. The viewer is left with the question as to what purpose. The final scene shows Dawai, forlorn, placing Ada’s Jughead on a shelf. There’s an elegiac quality to the last scene, framed through the doorway of a shack the viewer sees Dawai lingering over the jug. However, the conclusion is unfulfilling. Stories are satisfying when their events change the world of the story in a notable way. Disrupting this narrative world somehow disturbs our own thoughts about how the story connects to our own world. Jug Face offers us a world of religious extremism based on a virulent sexism and shows us how Ada must sacrifice everything to maintain a status quo. How does the viewer reconcile the world of the story? Similar to the titular vessel, answers to this question are largely empty.