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“Jug Face”, about a community offering human sacrifices to a supernatural entity, is Chad Crawford Kinkle’s first splash into horror — and he makes waves.

Stunning directorial debuts are always welcome discoveries when it comes to horror. Not only is it always a treat to experience a fresh take on classic approaches to fear and suspense, but viewers get to bask in the promise of what’s to come with future efforts from the same filmmaker.

Jug Face is Chad Crawford Kinkle’s 2013 debut, and it definitely inspires all of those feelings and more. It stars Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling, The Mind’s Eye), Sean Bridgers (The Woman), Sean Young (Escape Room), and Daniel Manche (I Sell the Dead, The Girl Next Door).

Jug Face is set in a backwoods community of the deep South that’s nothing if not bizarre.

The denizens of the community live in fear of “The Pit”, a literal hole in the ground housing a mysterious and bloodthirsty creature that demands periodic sacrifices in exchange for ongoing protection. How does the community decide who should be sacrificed? Dawai, the community’s potter, sculpts handmade jugs while deep in a trance. The jugs each bear a divinely inspired image of a face. If that face happens to resemble anyone who lives in the community, it’s officially their turn to have their throat ritually slit to appease The Pit.

Heroine Ada (Carter) is a member of this strange community. She is promised to one of the other citizens, as well as hiding the fact that she’s pregnant with her brother’s child. While that might seem like trouble enough for any young girl to be dealing with, Ada’s problems have only just begun.

When Ada’s face appears on one of Dawai’s  jugs, Ada decides to defy the will of The Pit and hide the jug in the woods instead of accepting her fate. What will become of Ada (and the rest of the community) now that The Pit is clearly angered by her choice to defy its will?

Jug Face didn’t come into the world attached to much of a budget, so it doesn’t have big, splashy special effects to fall back on.

Instead, it relies on intriguing storytelling, expert suspense building, inspired performances, and excellent writing to draw the audience in.

Kinkle, who wrote the film in addition to directing it, manages to build a world that feels as complex as it is strange and off-putting. Yes, this is a backwoods community populated by very ignorant people with abominable customs, but Kinkle’s treatment of them manages to make them human nevertheless.

You also genuinely feel for many of the characters, particularly pregnant Ada.

Lauren Ashley Carter turns in an amazing performance as the young heroine, right down to the emotion in her large, expressive eyes.

Carter’s co-stars also shine in their respective roles, especially Sean Young as Ada’s mean-spirited mother, Loris and Sean Bridgers as the moonshine-drunk Dawai. Mad props also go out to Christopher Heinrich for his jaw-dropping cinematography and Bob Kurtzman for his makeup effects, as they add much to the look and feel of the film despite the low budget.

Chad Crawford Kinkle was presented with a Slamdance Festival accolade for his screenwriting on this film, and it’s very well deserved. (Kinkle himself credits a trip to a Georgia pottery museum as the inspiration for Jug Face.)

It’s also hard not to see this film as a breakthrough, especially for a first-time director. Like many freshman efforts, it lacks the mirror-perfect polish of more experienced work, but it does work to get true genre fans excited about what’s next for the creative mind behind it.

Kinkle’s most recent low budget indie film, Dementer, only helps to cement his place as an up-and-coming talent worth keeping an eye on. We’ll almost certainly by hearing his name again, and I expect big things from him in the future.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

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