Released in some territories as The Pit, Jug Face (2013) is a low-budget slice of folk horror from the USA. While the film is limited by financial restraints, that does not prevent the ideas and story potential from emerging. There is a lot of promise behind this, Chad Crawford Kinkle’s feature directorial debut, and has left me keen to check out his 2019 follow-up Dementer. As for Jug Face itself, budgetary issues really do limit its appeal to the hardcore.
Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) lives among an isolated community in America’s backwoods, governed by superstition and which worships an allegedly enchanted pit in the forest. When she falls pregnant in an illicit affair, she goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid being selected as a sacrifice for the pit.
The first thing to acknowledge is that Jug Face is cheap: cripplingly cheap to a degree close to rendering the entire feature unwatchable. Recorded on video, and with limited visual effects resembling an early 1990s BBC children’s serial, it relies on audience patience and goodwill to be experienced at all. While limited production budgets should never be a barrier between a film and its audience, there are limits. Jug Face goes perilously close.
The second thing to consider is that, contrary to most horror films of its type, Jug Face does not give the audience an external viewpoint character. It follows Ada, who was born into her strangely religious community, and she is already well familiar with its quirks and rituals. It does provide an unexpected sense of realism, but it comes at the expense of any mystery or suspense. The film is regularly interesting, but never feels dramatic. Critically, at no point does it seem scary. When supernatural events occur, they are rendered too weakly to be convincing.
Lauren Ashley Carter makes for a convincing lead, and is gifted with the majority of character development and opportunities to showcase her talents. The bulk of the supporting cast feel a little too much like an amateur dramatics society, with the exception of an unexpected and incongruous Sean Young as Ada’s overbearing and fanatical mother.
Kinkle’s ideas are good ones, and there is a lot of potential for uneasy horror, but when your supernatural ‘pit’ looks like a puddle in a hole it can be a struggle to be sufficiently engaged. There is much to admire here, but it all comes with similar caveats: this is a film where one admires the potential and the effort more than the result.