Deep in rural America, a backwoods community have their own way of doing things. Arranged marriage is the tip of the iceberg. In return for apparently supernatural healing, the people perform ritual human sacrifice to The Pit, a muddy hole in the depths of the forest. The method for selection is based on potter Dawai, who periodically slips into a trance during which he creates a jug emblazoned with the face of the person to be sacrificed.
When headstrong teenager Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) finds the latest jug face while still in the furnace, she is shocked to find it bears her own face. Rather than submit to death, she decides instead to hide the jug, an action that will have dire consequences for the community.
Jug Face began life as a screenplay by short film director Chad Crawford Kinkle, which went on to win the script section of the Slamdance Film Festival. On the strength of that, he approached the production team from The Woman, knowing they were conmfortable with more “out there” indie horror ideas. As well as getting a production deal, Kinkle further pushed his luck by showing them his short film, Organ Grinder and on the strength of that, got the directing gig to boot.
Kinkle’s inexperience certainly does not show in Jug Face. He gets top drawer performances across the board from his cast. Carter, as the lead, effectively carries the film with her wide-eyed pixie look that lends her vulnerability, but her performance makes Ada’s inner strength convincing. Alongside her is her fellow The Woman alum, Sean Bridgers as the simple Dawai, an innocent victim role that is virtually unrecognisable against his turn as the morally-twisted domineering patriarch of The Woman.
The core cast is rounded out by genre vet Larry Fessenden as Ada’s duty-bound father and, in a terrific turn, Sean Young as Ada’s mother. Young nearly steals the film with a fiery part that could have easily been a cardboard villain, but instead comes across as a broken woman with genuinely good intentions. It is one of the greatest turns in Young’s career, so many years after headlining major films like Blade Runner and No Way Out back in the 80s.
The result of so many strong performances is a convincing (albeit very small) group of people divorced from the mainstream, living in caravans and shacks. Even when they have an excursion into town where they sell their moonshine, the modern stores and streets somehow feel a million miles away. As Ada finds her rebellion leads to the denizen of The Pit taking matters into its own hands, she decides to go on the run. But the outside world is frightening and strange.
Jug Face is a horror film, but it works best as a ensemble character study. The plot plays out in predictable fashion as The Pit keeps taking victims as it demands the correct sacrifice. It felt like the story needed another dimension, another twist, to elevate it beyond a fairly rote progression.
Despite this, it is a very strong indie movie. It has an unusual feel about it, and the richly drawn characters and environment are compelling. It is disturbing in a more subtle way, with an undercurrent of organised religion or any system of control and what it actually means for humanity. Not that it is all suggestion – plenty of the red stuff flows and some pretty gory remains pop up frequently.
Unique, deft and intelligent, Jug Face is a cut above most indie horror offerings and is a quality piece of work across the board. It punches way above its budget and is definitely worth a watch for any horror fan.
The “making of” is a solid 30 minute piece focussing primarily on the likeable Kinkle as he explains the real-life inspiration for the script and then on into production. Larry Fessenden, all wild hair and enthusiasm, is a huge presence as well, managing to be both charismatic and humble.
The mini-doco packs a lot in, from the digging of the pit through to monster design and finally to the triumphant premiere at Slamdance, a year after Kinkle had won the script competition there.
The other key extra is the Organ Grinder short. It is not a very strong piece of body horror and feels surprisingly amateurish against the assured nature of Jug Face. It is a great inclusion to see Kinkle’s roots and an important element in the movie finding its way to production.
DIRECTOR(S): Chad Crawford Kinkle | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 2013 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Modern Distributors/MVD | RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.33:1 | REGION: All / NTSC | DISCS: 1