Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle
There are few things more frightening than those unwavering in their beliefs, especially when it comes at the expense of their loved ones. In Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face, which premiered at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival and won its 2011 screenwriting competition, these horrifying realities are placed front and center, buffered by a supernatural twist without drifting into overdone territory, albeit with a few caveats.
The film focuses on Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), the daughter of a backwoods family whose life revolves around a mysterious pit in the middle of the woods. Believing the pit offers them protection, they turn to a mysterious ritual wherein Dawai (Sean Bridgers), a simple potter who lives in a shack, goes into a trance and forms a jug that adopts the face of one of their own. The face that appears after the jug is removed from the kiln must be sacrificed to the pit. Ada, betrothed to another yet impregnated by her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche), discovers the newest jug bears her face and goes through great lengths to save her baby by preventing her family from discovering the truth. However, the pit, and whatever dwells within, has other plans.
Jug Face attempts to tell two seemingly disparate tales: one, a simple tale of country folk whose bizarre pagan-esque faith overrides any familial bond, and two, a supernatural story about those whom the pit takes outside the perceived rules of the sacrifice. While the latter works within the context of the former, it tends to detract from the primary theme of blind faith that runs throughout the film – “the pit wants what it wants” – in favor of a very subtle ghost story. Granted, while its purpose is essential for Kinkle’s vision, it tends to diminish the gravitas of Ada’s situation; her reality is terrifying enough without the need for a ghostly portent warning her of things to come. The biggest issue comes primarily in the way the ghost is portrayed as ethereal wisps of black CGI tendrils emanate from his body as he warns Ada in a stereotypical “ghost voice.” It’s not necessarily bad; it’s just goofy. It, along with Ada’s ability to see the pit kill its next victim, never quite fits in with the film’s overarching aesthetic and themes, but it doesn’t necessarily ruin it. It’s a minor complaint, but one that needs to be mentioned.
This is due in part to Kinkle’s beautifully paced script and ability to weave these supernatural moments in with the reality of it all in a way that isn’t too overpowering This is also aided in part by the stellar performances of Carter and Bridgers, the latter of which gives a complete 180 performance from his role in the Lucky McKee-directed The Woman, a role he’s perhaps best known for among horror fans. His face obscured by a beard run rampant and giant glasses, Bridgers’ kind-hearted Dawai is a simple man who holds a special bond with Ada that often leads to accusatory claims by the rest of the family that the two are fooling around. This helps form the backbone of Ada’s personality, giving to the film an emotional resonance that is felt throughout.
These two are just the stand-outs in an all-around stellar cast, with genre staple Larry Fessenden bringing a delicate balance as the family’s patriarch Sustin to a world consumed by blind faith. His beliefs control his actions, but deep down there is a sense of good and love for his children that reins him in. Conversely, his wife, played by Sean Young, is a far more brutal individual, not above burning the inside of Ada’s thighs with a cigarette to force a confession out of her. The two complement each other, their devout beliefs intersecting at a place that proves to be too much to bear for Ada.
Jug Face is a film loaded with talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Despite a few minor quibbles, Kinkle’s debut feature is filled with emotion and just enough blood to keep the gore hounds satisfied. Even when it flirts with convention, Kinkle never strays away from the underlying themes of blind devotion, resulting in a truly compelling tale that will knock you flat with its final scene.
4 out of 5