It’s been almost a year since I first watched Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face and taken me about that long to realize exactly what made me so uncomfortable with it. I should clarify that in this case, ‘uncomfortable’ means surprising me in a way I didn’t see coming and not the ‘I can’t sit through this it makes me feel disgusting’ sort of feeling. This is an important distinction. The film is well made in the technical sense, the scenery disturbing in its plainness and simplicity, and the costumes made in a similar fashion. This is not a flashy film. It doesn’t need to be. It knows what it wants to say and goes about doing just that.
To start off with, Jug Face is a tight movie concerning a very specific culture in a very specific place and time. It tells the story of Ada, a young woman lives in a community that worships a hole in the ground known as the pit, which heals them in exchange for the occasional human sacrifice. The faces of the victims to be appear on the clay jugs made by the local potter, who acts as something of a medium between the pit and the rest of the world.
Now reread that paragraph and try to imagine how a story could make worshiping a muddy hole in the ground believably creepy.
Jug Face creates that world, by the simple virtue of taking its premise seriously. This is not a film that winks at itself or tries to make light of the situation the characters find themselves in. The protagonist lives in a fraught world that she is trying – and marginally succeeding – to subvert with an illicit and incestuous relationship with her brother. This is the only thing in Ada’s life that is remotely under her own control. Her husband will be chosen for her, without her consent, and her future involves raising babies – there is nothing else for Ada to look forward to. The only opportunities for freedom come from the rare trips into town – and yet, the prospect of running away never really occurs to Ada. Nonetheless, she has found a way to navigate – however uncertainly – through the world she finds herself in.
And then she becomes pregnant. Her brother refuses to help. And the face on the latest jug happens to be Ada’s own. Things get bloody when Ada decides to buck tradition and hide the jug, refusing to sacrifice herself for what is considered the betterment of her community.
Now here is where things got uncomfortable for me personally. The film chronicles Ada’s fight and eventual reconciliation with her family, cumulating in her willing sacrifice to the pit. Jug Face is, at its heart, something of a twisted morality tale about Ada’s journey to taking responsibility for how her actions impact the rest of the community. Because the community needs her sacrifice, Ada eventually puts her head on the chopping block.
I wanted to see the story where Ada broke free completely. This is not the direction that Jug Face decided to go in.
Again, this is not a fault of the film. The story was well crafted as a character piece, and an examination of how group mentality can influence people to believe that horrible actions are both inevitable and necessary. Jug Face does not create a world where Ada’s death is seen as right – but it does create one where the viewer can see why she would make that choice. To Ada, the sacrifice doesn’t seem so senseless.
The viewer, however, is left to watch a community that would rather sacrifice its children to a demonic hole in the ground rather than take their sick to a hospital.
Jug Face, despite its somewhat incredulous premise, is a subtle film. One of the best scenes is an interaction between Ada and an unnamed pharmacy clerk. Ada is clumsily attempting to steal a pregnancy test while her father stands a few feet away, and the clerk sees her. The clerk does not try to stop her. They even have a brief, and ultimately meaningless conversation as Ada runs off with the pregnancy test hidden in her shirt. Though the clerk clearly wants to help, Ada does not know how to accept it. And therein lies the real tragedy of the film. Since Ada cannot make herself leave her community, she cannot escape the toxicity of it. While that story left me upset at the end, I cannot deny that Jug Face was incredibly successful at what it set out to do.