Horror, 81 Minutes, 2013
I enjoy stories that focus on the fringes of society; those on the peripheral. Mountain folk, hillbillies, backwoods, whatever you want to call them: people that keep their own counsel, make their own (sometimes sinister) rules and live just outside our expectations.
A simple, but well-done, animated credit sequence sets the tone and provides history. Generations ago the community was beset by a deadly pox. When the Christian priests couldn’t save them, the people resorted to older, more powerful magic. They sacrificed the priests to the pit. In return, the pit healed the sick, but now demands blood worship. Periodically “The Potter” receives a vision and, entranced, creates a “Jug Face”. Whomever it represents must be sacrificed to the pit for the community to survive.
While the supernatural drives the story, it’s the mundane, everyday life of these people that creates the most discomfort. Incest is frowned upon more for the damage it does to prospective bride payments than anything else. Roadkill is a lucky find that saves money on food. Mothers, long-ashed cigarettes dangling from their lips, grope their daughters to confirm their virginity. The care taken painting the community pays off richly. It keeps the audience off-balance, disturbed and receptive to the horrors that follow.
The pit itself is a masterstroke of understatement; literally a wet, earthen hole in the ground. This, no doubt, was easy on the budget, but more importantly it allows the imagination to run wild. The power of the pit is real, the movie never equivocates on that, but it’s never revealed or explained. The most frightening monster is always the one you can’t see, the one that lurks nearby but never becomes clear.
The acting is very impressive (and not just “for the budget”). The dialog rings true and the characters are well-drawn and consistent. The mythology of the pit is simple, but engrossing and appropriate. Technically there’s surprisingly absolutely nothing to complain about. Staging, pacing, lighting, etc. are all competent and well-executed.
While different in tone and execution, the movie reminds me favorably of the under-rated 1988 classic, “Pumpkinhead“. That film, with a larger budget, leaned much more heavily on effects and action but maintained much of the same mystery and sense of otherness. This movie, far from suffering from its budget, exalts in it. Working within their limitations, those involved produced something truly effective and not to be missed.