A well-acted, genre-busting curiosity, "Jug Face" is bold of premise and disquieting in its low-key mounting. The sound directorial debut of Chad Crawford Kinkle, the film treats its out-there flights of fancy with such a naturalism it often seems weirdly plausible. Is it a horror picture, though, a cross between Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story "The Lottery" and 1984's Stephen King adaptation "Children of the Corn," or is it a cautionary tale of religious cults and extremism, reminiscent in some ways of 2011's "Martha Marcy May Marlene
?" The results aren't scary in the conventional sense, but as drama "Jug Face" is bleakly effective.
In the backwoods of Tennessee lives a strict, tight-knit community with old-fashioned beliefsmarriages are still arrangedand a mysterious pit they pray over and fear. For Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), a deep, dark secret is being kept: she is not only pregnant, but having an affair with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche). As she struggles with hiding the truth while grappling with her impending marriage to Bodey (Mathieu Whitman), Ada is suddenly faced with yet another frightening truth: her face has shown up on the latest jug made by clairvoyant claymaker Dawai (Sean Bridgers)a sign that she is to be the pit's latest sacrifice. Not willing to face up to the truth, Ada buries the jug in the forest, inadvertently setting off a chain of deadly events.
A study in restraint, perhaps in part due to its slim budget but also because writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle is more interested in the psychology of his characters, "Jug Face" may be about a creature who climbs out of a pit and claims victims, but don't expect to ever catch a glimpse of it. The blood-strewn aftermath is all the viewer gets, and that's fine. What is more interesting, anyway, are the indomitable conflicts Ada must face and the gradual acceptance she experiences over her ultimate fate. Headstrong and sympathetic, Lauren Ashley Carter (2011's "The Woman
") is terrific as Ada, while Sean Young (2001's "Sugar & Spice
") makes for an indelibly cutting heavy as Loriss, Ada's unforgiving mother. As "Jug Face" nears its conclusion, the film can't be bothered to build all that much momentum; in general, Kinkle keeps the pacing steady and deliberate. Compact at 81 minutes, "Jug Face" is certainly different, and that's a good thing. Ada's sad destiny will arrive all in due time.