22 January 2014

Jug Face 2013 - REVIEW by Chris Young

Hello everyone. I would like to start this impromptu meeting of indie horror filmmakers by saying I appreciate you all taking the time out of your busy schedules to come by. My assistant will be happy to validate parking tickets. There are refreshments in the back and restrooms down the hall. If you brought smokes you can light ‘em up. You may need them before we’re done.

Let’s begin by thanking many of you for stepping up to the plate and making the last few years a very exciting time for fans of horror. You’ve given us everything from retro-styled slashers and grand guignol to ambitious creature features and hauntings. The shear volume of offerings is a true embarrassment of riches and we, the fans, thank you with all our hearts. Go ahead, feel free to give yourselves a round of applause. That’s it. Don’t be shy, you deserve it.
 Having said that, it grieves me to have to share with you that there has emerged a certain practice that seems to be a recurring problem more and more lately. I’m aware that you may be unaware of the seriousness of the situation and have taken it upon myself to bring it to your attention. I realize a large number of you may ignore today’s subject and may even do so proudly, as if it were some auteur badge of honor. Let me assure you, if that is the case, this meeting is not for you. I’m speaking today to those who love their audience, one of the most open-minded and long suffering fan bases you could ever wish for, and want to entertain us for many years to come.
Everyone still here? Ah, I see we’re losing a couple. That was to be expected. Frankly I’m surprised they showed up in the first place. Be that as it may, let’s proceed.

At the risk of appearing to have a personal bias against any one person I would like to call Chad Crawford Kinkle to the front. Although today's topic of discussion applies to many of you sitting out there in those uncomfortable folding chairs, it may be easier to discuss if we use an example, and unfortunately for Mr. Kinkle, he happens to be the most recent offender. Now don’t look so anxious, Chad. I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. Really, it’s not so bad. You’ll see.

Today we will briefly discuss Chad’s film “Jug Face”. My assistant, Mindy, is passing out some materials, a press kit, stickers, and a 10% discount code for Amazon so you can watch the film later in the convenience of your own home. The story takes place in an an isolated backwoods community where the culture is based on the pagan blood worship of an open pit inhabited by a murderous invisible entity. The eponymous Jug Face refers to the pottery created by a local man while in a trance state induced by the entity in order to signify whom it wants to devour. In return the group receives health and prosperity. A young woman discovers she is next on the killing block and hides this knowledge from the rest, setting off a chain reaction of death and mayhem.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would endorse viewing a film I am simultaneously using as an object lesson for problematic film making. It’s quite simple, “Jug Face” is a very well made film. The Acting, casting, direction, score, etc. are all perfection. A quality production throughout and worthy of praise. Make sure to see it, and don’t forget the discount code, if you lose the card just remember JUGSFTW and you’ll be golden.

But, Chad, and I apologize, may I call you Chad? Okay, thanks. Let’s get to the point, shall we?

Your ending sucks.

Yes, no seriously, it reeks like a one cat litter box in a 10 cat house. I’m not kidding. It’s crap.

You’ll have to excuse my scatological turn of phrase, but I have to be plain about these things. You and your peers have recently, and a few of you not so recently, produced engaging, masterful, sometimes even ground-breaking films with endings that seem designed to royally piss us off. This is not artistic, clever or even new. It is simply lazy and we’re pretty tired of it.
Atmosphere is not story, neither is character, craft or shock value. You can’t claim you had too little money or time. Killing the lead is not an obstacle, or even entire casts (Shakespeare did it regularly). Abrupt endings, loose ends and ambiguity can all be justified with a deftly written denouement. It can be three acts, two acts, five acts or no acts. Sad, insane, disturbing, thrilling or melancholy. These are all flavors that enhance the meal, but no amount of salt can mask the substitution of soy burgers for the real thing. “Splice” is one of the most disturbing and ultimately sad genre films in recent memory, yet it has a corker of a climax followed by a neatly played little epilogue. “Grace” has one simple story point that it plays through to a very acceptable and satisfying end. “Excision” has a truly abrupt ending absent of any resolution or epilogue but feels so right in it’s timing and execution that one can’t imagine doing it any other way. “El Orfanato” and “Mama” have garnered devoted fans who are almost evangelistic in their fervor because they illustrate the very definition of great endings. “Ginger Snaps”, “Session 9”, “The Ninth Configuration” and “Saw” are just a few of the many films that have tackled potentially difficult endings with finesse and, in some cases, brilliance.

The best way I can think of to say it is that there’s a difference between telling a complete, well crafted story and simply reporting, for lack of a better phrase, a slice of life, as if the film wasn’t so much directed as it was recorded. We meet characters, learn to care about them, then watch them experience some form of conflict which resolves itself or doesn’t, live or die, wash-rinse-repeat. The audience can write it in their sleep by now, so why should we pay good money to watch someone else do the same? Conflict by itself is not enough. We need catharsis, or edification, a lingering dread that follows us home and makes us sleep with the lights on, or better yet, all of the above.

Now don’t look so uncomfortable Mr. Kinkle. You’re in good company. Why, I almost called Sylvia and Jen to the front instead of yourself. But, let us continue, shall we?

The character was raised by sucky parents? What do we get from that? Does she break free? Does she fail to escape completely and wreak bloody havoc like “Carrie”? Does she attain some long sought after vengeance only to find it hollow and bewildering ala “I’ve Seen The Devil”?

What about the creature in the pit? No need to explain it’s origins. Some of us thrive on fear of the unknown. But is there a reckoning? Is it driven away or destroyed? Is the entire area consumed leaving it empty like the Roanoke settlers or is it nothing more than a plot device to arbitrarily create the context for tragedy and bloodshed?

Where’s the irony, surprise, the overwhelming obstacle that the protagonist overcomes without cheating?
For God’s sake, what is the point, dammit? That the world sucks and bad things happen in it? I have news for you, that’s a point of view, NOT a story!!

There’s a reason the loyal fans of “LOST” were ready to riot after sticking with the uneven storytelling for six years only to be given a very underwhelming finale that seemed to negate the significance of the past six seasons. Look at the meaningless last episode of “Dexter” and the almost universal disdain it received even to the point of articles being written on how it SHOULD have ended. Need we mention the Mass Effect 3 debacle? Endings matter!

I can see some of you are getting restless, and maybe I’ve drifted a bit. So, I’ll wrap things up with this: there is a reason that storytellers over the ages have filled their tales with purpose, justice, immutable destiny and karma. Because those of us who deal first hand with the uncertainties and insecurities of existence, those who actually are present in this life and don’t live in a bubble, are perfectly aware that the world can be an uncaring and fickle place. So, what makes you think we want to spend our free time watching a movie that tells us the exact same thing? In effect, what you’re creating is a new horror sub-genre that is every bit as pernicious as Torture-Porn that could rightly be titled Emo-Porn. It’s the same amount of voyeuristic suffering as “Hostel” or “Audition” just without the gore. It may be prettier than severed limbs and more palatable to the award givers who love to pat themselves on the back while “discovering” what they like to think of as horror, but better. It might get you interviews with Terry Gross or a mention in Rolling Stone but you’re not fooling the audience. If your story has no satisfying resolution, than it is an effect for effect’s sake. It’s self flagellating porn and I’ll have no more of it.

Yes, Mr. Roth! Did you have a comment? You’ve brought up a valid point. There are indeed people who desire to wallow in vicarious misery and heartbreak. To that I would say: one of the biggest downfalls of filmmaking is not knowing who your audience is. If you wish to cater to the art house crowd, or want to thrill the extremely jaded then knock yourself out. But do not fool yourself into thinking you can play for all teams at once. There have been only a handful of directors who can navigate those treacherous currents and do so successfully. The rest are nothing more than weak sauce and satisfy no one except maybe themselves. If that is your goal, I wish you all the luck in the world, you’ll need it.
You see, many of your audience members happen to be like me, and are very jealous of the minutes we have been allotted in our too brief lives. This is no exaggeration or hyperbole. If I give 90 minutes or more of my life to a filmmaker’s vision only to be left frustrated, depressed or just unsatisfied like some awkwardly inconclusive one night stand, I’m going to make damn sure not to be in that situation again. A great ending is an arduous, demanding, disciplined and noble pursuit that speaks well of the maturity and professionalism of the filmmaker. There really is no substitute and speaking for those of your prospective audience who are still willing to give you another chance, this may be your final warning.

If I may paraphrase your own film, Mr. Kinkle: “The audience wants what it wants.”

I can see I’ve kept you all here long enough. You’re dismissed, and thanks again for coming. If you want to take advantage of our guest instructor for the evening, I’m sure Mr. Darabont will be happy to spend a few minutes with you. Oh, and don’t forget to have your parking passes validated. I hope I’ve been able to resolve any questions you may have on tonights subject.

Actually, speaking of resolutions, I’d like to see Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead before they leave. They have some explaining to do.

Reviewed by Chris Young

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