The horror melodrama "Jug Face" from writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle is a modest detour into redneck gothic set in a secluded, moonshine-producing, road kill-eating backwoods community beholden to a force they call "the pit." This alternately cruel and healing mystical entity (embodied by a hole in the ground) requires regular human sacrifice, to be determined by whatever face the simple-minded local potter (Sean Bridgers) carves onto his latest jug.
When teenager Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) — inconveniently pregnant before her arranged marriage — discovers she's the next jug face, she tries to hide the oven-fired evidence to make her fate go away, with disastrous results. Reminiscent of more naturalistic, anti-mainstream genre freakouts of late like "The Woman," Kinkle's debut refreshingly sacrifices gore showpieces (though it is bloody at times) for a steadily increasing dread tied to a young woman's desperation.
The performances are uneven — Carter's and Bridgers' portrayals feel lived-in, while Sean Young as Ada's brutal mother seems left over from chewy star turns past. But Kinkle shows welcome restraint in pacing his grimy little tale, even if the sum of its parts never quite feels like more than an admirably rendered campfire yarn.
"Jug Face." MPAA rating: R for bloody violence, language and brief sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. Playing: At Laemmle Music Hall.