2013 - 81 minutes
Written and directed by: Chad Crawford Kinkle
Starring: Lauren Asley Carter, Sean Bridgers, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Daniel Manche
Horror fans and critics alike often bemoan the lack of originality in a genre often married to its standard tropes. If you’re in the mood for something different, I would suggest a look into the eyes of “Jug Face,” the smart and steady debut feature from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle.
Eschewing the gore for a moody desolation, the film plays effectively within a limited prism and low budget constraints that only add to the authentic feel. “Jug Face” looks and sounds great and is well-acted. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, it makes judicious use of its runtime, crafting a mythology that is intricate, but not confusing and, best of all, interesting.
A crayon colored sequence during the opening titles effectively exposes the history of a backwoods community and their service to a mysterious pit. An enigmatic evil being resides at the bottom of the murky pit, sustained by human sacrifices offered up by the locals.
The entity reveals its desired victims through clairvoyant, yet dimwitted, potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers). In a trance-like state complete with creepy and real-looking white milky eyes, Dawai crafts a jug with the face of who is to be sacrificed. As long as the people keep giving the pit what it wants, it protects the community and provides water that cures their ailments. Or so they believe, at least, and it seems to be working.
Young Ada (a strong performance from Lauren Ashley Carter, who here looks like a more interested and interesting version of Kristen Stewart), has plenty of reasons to flee her community. She’s pregnant by her brother, setup in an arranged “joining” with an undesirable community member and constantly faces the dehumanizing scrutiny of her overbearing mother Loriss (Sean Young). To top it off, she discovers it’s her visage emblazed on the latest jug forged by Dawai – hiding it the woods in an effort to postpone her sacrifice.
With a deft and even had, Kinkle and his cast avoid grandiose showiness in favor of a subdued depiction of Ada’s struggle with desperation and hopelessness in the face of her destiny. There are a few scenes of gore by an unseen attacking monster, but they shock in their societal acquiescence and not for the number of buckets of blood used.
With a smart restraint all around – whether constrained by budget or not – the dank and dirty tale never feels like high-concept pretention, but engaging campfire tale. Eerily atmospheric and never over-the-top insane, “Jug Face” has a naturalistic energy that is exuberant within its limitations. Here’s to hoping that with bigger budgets that he’s almost sure to get, Kinkle stays the course of thoughtful storytelling.
© 2013 by Blake Crane