Vibrantly lensed in rural Tennessee, “Jug Face” is an impressively oozing slab of indie horror that bodes well for the future of first-time writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle. The brisk, brief feature appears more atmospheric than terrifying, but its bare-bones tale gets under the skin, telling of a pregnant teen whose impending sacrifice to a backwoods community’s worship pit causes hell to break loose. Creatively frugal f/x and a fine performance by saucer-eyed Lauren Ashley Carter as the freaked-out heroine should translate into solid word of mouth among low-budget horror buffs and a modestly successful VOD gross.
Following a series of stylishly creepy crayon sketches that accompany the pic’s opening credits, young Ada (Carter) is introduced on the run, scurrying through the woods in an attempt to elude Jessaby (Daniel Manche). That the two end up having sex against a tree may be surprising, but it seems less bizarre in light of Kinkle’s subsequent revelations: that Jessaby is Ada’s brother; that Ada is pregnant with his child; and that she’s forced to splash red paint on her panties in order to fake the old-fashioned pregnancy tests administered by her puritanical mom (a genuinely bloodcurdling Sean Young).
Likewise, while Ada’s cult-like community has her due to be “joined” to pudgy bumpkin Bodey (Mathieu Whitman), that’s nothing compared with her fate as foretold by pea-brained potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers), whose job in the village is to etch into clay the faces of those slated to be sacrificed to an allegedly all-powerful pit. Indeed, Dawai’s latest “jug face” belongs to Ada, who pisses off the pit by throwing her ceramic likeness in the woods, thereby defying her apparent destiny.
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En route to an unexpected and fairly unsettling finale, Kinkle’s screenplay has sufficient fun with hick lingo without quite making monsters of the yokels, dumb as they are. Bridgers is allowed to lend a touch of feeble humanity to his turn as the moonshine-swilling jug-face maker, but an even stronger impression is made very simply by the effects team that renders a possession sequence in green tint and fast motion, with grinding audio. Never is it in doubt that the pit, as Young’s chainsmoking Momma puts it, “wants what it wants.”
Tech credits, including Bob Kurtzman’s ghoulish makeup effects and Christopher Heinrich’s widescreen cinematography, are ghastly good.