Chad Crawford Kinkle’s monotonous pace for his Southern pottery folk art inspired Jug Face makes for an excruciatingly boring movie with—and I’m definitely not in agreement with other critics on this point—no tension whatsoever because of it. Whatever intended or implied subtexts of mysticism and the effects of stagnating religious fealty that may be tucked into this simple, stretched thin, script are lost while we wait for something to happen. Close-ups of the bubbling pit where backwoods families sacrifice each other to maintain their community's health, close-ups of Ada’s (Lauren Ashley Carter) big, brooding eyes, and close-ups of those glossy face-bearing jugs made by Dawai the potter (Sean Bridgers), which herald the next sacrificial victim chosen by the omnipresent pit monster, are comatose as the camera moves around them with much more vitality.
Sustin (Larry Fessenden) is the patriarch who easily and righteously slits the throats of his decreed sacrifices to placate the pit monster, thereby maintaining his closed community's social order and keeping its "well" being intact. Ada upsets the balance when she realizes she’s the next sacrifice and buries the jug with her face on it.
Her incestuous relationship with her brother (Daniel Manche) leaves her pregnant; her unwelcomed arranged marriage to a neighbor’s son (Mathieu Whitman) leads her to deception; and her mother’s crude virginity examination (performed by Sean Young with her usual, limited, cigarette-emotive acting skills) leaves her subservient to the expectations of her community and its rules. Kinkle keeps everything so monotone he never elicits the necessary question we should be feeling to engage our sense of terror: what's the truer evil here, the pit monster or the community that accepts its demands?
There is also the Tinkerbell ghost, smoking all dark and ominously, popping up to explain to Ada that she’s toast, no matter what she tries to do. Perhaps Kinkle was trying to evoke a folk tale's worth of supernatural terror with his apparition's presence, but if you're looking for terror watch Deliverance instead; that movie's atmosphere of other-worldliness and alienation is greatly needed here to make Krinkle's folk art horror concoction upsetting and disagreeable for us.
Much throat-cutting and blood dripping ensues as the pit monster grows angry. Eyes turn cataract-white as the pit monster bubbles up and flexes its annoyance. Hillbilly cult slice-of-life scenes and moonshines distracts us from Ada's predicament. Although they provide necessary contrast to her dire situation, they disengage us from that tension because of Kinkle's even-handedness as he doles out each scene with equal tone. The acting is at the correct pitch, but Kinkle never lets his direction open up to generate fear, or despair, or a smidgen of absurdest eloquence through it. Unlike Dawai's pottery, the story is only half-baked and not fired up to its true horrors of circumstance and entrapment within a stultifying society.
The musical interlude helps redeem the dullness, but it doesn’t last long enough. Jug Face is a 60-minute movie shot in 80 minutes of tedium. It suffers from film festival laissez faire: it wastes time on emotionless visuals and empty character dioramas, and presumes the vacuum it leaves is emotively and intellectually engaging and multi-nuanced. It isn't.
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