Title: Jug Face
Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle
Starring: Lauren Ashley Carter, Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, Daniel Manche, Mathieu Whitman, Sean Bridgers
A rising tide of dread and desperation marks “Jug Face,” a low-budget, independent slice of Southern Gothic characterized by a solid technical package. The freshman feature effort of writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle, this psychologically rooted horror film recalls the movies of Lucky McKee — and with good reason, since the “May” and “Sick Girl” director serves as an executive producer here.
The story unfolds in a rural, backwoods community, where moonshine peddled once a month to city folk seems to be the only connection to the outside world. Teenager Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is set to be married off to Bodey (Mathieu Whitman) by her father Sustin (Larry Fessenden) and mother Loriss (Sean Young). What they don’t know, however, is that Ada’s walks in the woods with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) are more than innocent strolls — and that she’s pregnant.
All this would be a simpler tragedy if not for the fact that the community indulges in occasional human sacrifice to a mysterious pit. The pit supposedly heals wounds and sickness, keeping everyone safe, but also requires fealty in the form of a corporal offering when potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers) goes into a trance and carves the visage of someone onto a ceremonial jug. When Ada discovers she’s been tabbed as the next sacrifice, it sets off a scramble for survival — with far-reaching consequences for her entire burgh.
There’s a simple, streamlined narrative quality, and corresponding restraint, to “Jug Face.” It feels properly scaled. Though it does get bloody, the film eschews much in the way of gore in favor of steeped atmosphere and elongated tension. It mostly works, even if Ava and Jessaby’s sibling bond could use a deeper and more sincere exploration, and Kinkle act doesn’t quite figure out the most compelling bridge between the movie’s second act and its ending. What gives “Jug Face” its punch is Kinkle’s instincts for construction; they’re superb, and extend to composer Sean Spillane, who offers up a great, memorable and evocative leitmotif as part of his score. Chris Heinrich’s cinematography is also quite nice, fitting the naturalistic aesthetic of the movie.
The performances are a bit uneven. Carter anchors “Jug Face,” ably conveying the vulnerability and panic of Ada. And “Deadwood”‘s Bridgers — who looks like a countrified Dylan Walsh — brings an alluring, slightly mysterious quality to Dawai, somewhere between simpleton and doomed shaman. Manche, though, feels posed in sullen, bad-boy pin-up mode, while Young’s histrionics seem rooted in a misinterpreted channeling of “Carrie”‘s Piper Laurie. That said, for genre fans there’s more of moody interest than not here in “Jug Face” — a film of modest intentions but solid execution.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, which include this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall, “Jug Face” is also available across VOD platforms.
Written by: Brent Simon