Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut feature Jug Face is an oddity in contemporary horror cinema; its unique premise – set in a bizarre religious community – distances it from its contemporaries much like the insular settlement depicted in the film is secluded from modern society. A puzzling, ambiguous title has been responsible for misconceptions associated with the film, leaving some viewers – those anticipating a run-of-the-mill slasher film – confused about its place in the canon of backwoods horror. Those ready to embrace its creepy originality, on the other hand, will find plenty to appreciate in Kinkle’s approach.
Kinkle isn’t too concerned with how the film appears to less adventurous horror fans. He says, “It seems like some people’s idea of the horror genre is so narrow. People think it’s a slasher, and [the title] evokes that. It doesn’t bother me; it’s a horror movie- that’s all I care about: that it sounds like a horror movie. Once you see the story, it all makes sense.”
For those unfamiliar, Jug Face concerns Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), a pregnant young woman living in a secluded and closely-knit religious community where the inhabitants make sacrifices to a supernatural Pit responsible for their longevity. A sacrifice is selected based on the chosen victim’s visage appearing on a jug created by an artisan named Dawai (Sean Bridgers), possessed by a mysterious force at the time of spinning his pottery wheel. Ada discovers that she is the next chosen, and hides her face jug away deep in the woods. The community suffers for her selfish act of self-preservation when other members of the community are struck down in retaliation by the mysterious force of the Pit.
Kinkle created the Pit to serve as a menacing presence in the film, as well as a means of controlling his hermetically-sealed characters. He says of the Pit, “Obviously, it’s their God; it’s the controlling idea of the community; it’s the ultimate enforcer. [Ada] is causing people to be killed and be put into purgatory.” It’s the duality of this threat that makes Ada’s plight particularly challenging, for she can’t simply run away from her troubles lest her friends and family suffer.
Jug Face has been compared to The Wicker Man because it similarly submerges a doomed character, and the viewer, in a secluded cult environment. The film succeeds in part because of the authenticity of its location. A native Tennessean, Kinkle realized no other location but home could recreate the environment he’d established in his screenplay; he was prepared to convince potential producers that only the familiar hollows and creeks of his home state would be the ideal location to shoot the film:
“It’s about Tennessee; those woods; those people; the people I grew up with, really. There are people like snake handlers, and other small cults that live in the community I grew up in, so I knew those people and knew how they lived. That’s why I was adamant about them coming to Tennessee to shoot.”
Kinkle’s own small town upbringing filters into characters modeled after neighbors and family members; with that comes the ideological basis for the fundamentalism – strict adherence to the Pit’s code – factoring so largely into the story. According to the director, “It just goes back to the small southern town, growing up in a community that’s mainly Christian and [politically] far right. I’m not judging people, but I don’t share those views at all. It’s a reflection of that; the current politics seep into my conscious.”
Kinkle was careful to avoid any black & white representations of good vs. evil in his exploration of fundamentalism. He says, “That’s just more interesting to me; I don’t like characters that are just all bad or all good, it just doesn’t make any sense; I can’t write anything I don’t find interesting. One of my main literary influences is Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, which I read in seventh grade. It blew my mind because I live in that community; I can see that happening in my home town. I also read, at the same time, Lord of the Flies; this is like the people I live with.”
Commenting on one of the more controversial aspects of the film – an incestuous relationship between two main characters – Kinkle says, “It’s a product of their environment, their living situation. When you tell people about it, that gets them. They turn it off, even investors, once they heard the word ‘incest’, they couldn’t get over it. In the script it’s treated the same as in the movie, very matter-of-fact.”
Various cinematic and literary influences, as well as Kinkle own personal history, helped shape the story, but the catalyst is the face jug itself. Kinkle, explaining where the idea for the jug faces came about, says, “They’re real; it’s a real thing – face jugs. They’ve existed in the South since 1850. They’re used by farmers for poisons like arsenic to put on cotton for boll weevils, and also for moonshine. The different faces indicate that whatever liquid it held was not to drink or was not for kids; that’s one of the ideas behind it. There are families that have been doing it for hundreds of years.”
From the outset, producing Jug Face as a low budget effort created substantial challenges. None, however, as thorny as convincing producers that an unseasoned director with only a few short films under his belt could helm a feature production. According to Kinkle, a Canadian producer expressed interest, but balked when Kinkle was adamant about directing. Kinkle says, “He had all the cash, but kept avoiding the fact that I wanted to direct it.” Another producer was interested, but couldn’t get past the lofty themes of the film. “They couldn’t get past the incest, and that the people are scarier than the creature. It just wasn’t for them,” he says.
Frustrated at the prospect of losing control of the film, Kinkle did a little soul searching in Los Angeles. He asked himself, “Should I sell my first screenplay?” He adds, “I started writing to direct: I wrote the story, now I want to make it. To become a director, people always said you had to write your own material. That’s why I started focusing on feature scripts. My friends pointed out to me the book [Jason Zinoman’s] Shock Value, so I picked it up and started reading on the plane ride back, and on every page, I felt more energized thinking, ‘This is like me, forty years ago. There’s no way I’m giving up this script.’”
A serendipitous moment got things moving when Kinkle – on a whim – contacted producer Andrew van den Houten (Headspace, Offspring) who’d had recent success with Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Kinkle says, “[Andrew van den Houten] was sending the script out to people like Sean Bridgers, who plays Dawai. He read it and was like, ‘I have to be Dawai.’ Things were building in my favor, and then Lucky McKee read the screenplay and said to the producer, ‘If you do this, then I want to be executive producer.’”
A partnership blossomed between Kinkle and van den Houten, and Lucky McKee was brought on board as executive producer. Kinkle reflected on the experience working with McKee to bring his vision to Jug Face to the big screen:
‘In the editing process, [Lucky McKee] was huge. I would go down to Texas where the editor was, and Lucky came down for one week. We all worked together, and it was the best week of my life. We’d go edit all day, then at five we’d leave the editor’s house and go to this other house that didn’t have cable or internet – just had a TV and a Blu-Ray player – and we’d just hang out outside and drink and talk about horror movies for hours through the whole week. Or we’d go inside and watch horror movies. He’s just a year or two older than me, so we had the same references growing up.”
Kinkle faced another significant challenge as a relatively inexperienced director: the handing of seasoned actors Sean Young (Blade Runner) and Larry Fessenden (I Sell the Dead). Here, the duo portrays Ada’s parents – Young playing her severely strict mother Lorris, balanced by Fessenden’s turn as Ada’s stern but understanding father Sustin. Kinkle had a specific vision in mind for Fessenden’s character, and explains, “I grew up in a small Presbyterian church, and [Larry’s] modeled a little bit after my preacher. In a strange way, my preacher’s very level-headed; he was a really nice guy and understanding. So Larry’s modeled after him. My favorite part of the whole movie was him; being on set with him; working with him; talking to him; he’s that amazing.”
Kinkle had similar feelings about Young, with whom he worked closely to help shape Loriss from what Kinkle considered a “rough” character to something more severe and imposing. He says, “Sean cared about the way she understood it, and was always asking me to make sure things were right and what she was doing met with the vision of the story; it’s her interpretation [of Loriss]; she didn’t need to be overt because she’s already so fierce.”
Considering the film’s roots are imbedded in his own home community, Kinkle was asked about the reaction from the folks back home, and says, “Most of the background people [in the film] are played by my family – not the extreme people like the woman playing spoons or the creepy guy with white hair – but the other people are my mom; my dad; my sister’s in it; my aunt and uncle; my cousin and her husband and their three kids; my best friend and his wife and daughter; they’re all in there – all the sacrifice scenes.” He says about their reaction to his love of horror, “I’ve never written another genre screenplay that wasn’t horror because that’s what I’m interested in. I have a very religious family; they watch those movies and don’t get them.”
The screenplay for Jug Face originally won The Slamdance Film Festival Grand Prize Screenwriting Award for Kinkle in 2011, and is now receiving worldwide acclaim. When asked how he felt seeing his original concept – one so rooted in personal history – come full circle on the big screen, Kinkle said, “It’s a mix of emotions really; on one hand, I’m thrilled to have finally gotten my chance to make a mark on the horror genre; on the other, it’s been the most exposing thing I’ve ever done.”
As mentioned before, Jug Face is releasing this Friday, August 9th in select theatres, and the film is still available for rental now on iTunes, Amazon and VOD platforms. The film is also releasing on DVD and Blu-ray on October 15th, 2013, and is available for preorder on Amazon and other retail outlets. For more information on the film, you can visit its official website here or visit here for a list of screening locations. For more from Kinkle himself, you can follow him on Twitter: @ChadCKinkle.
For more information on Chad Crawford Kinkle and Jug Face, including our exclusive interviews with Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter and Sean Young, check back later on DiaboliqueMagazine.com during our JUG FACE WEEK! Additionally, You can check our previous JUG FACE WEEK interview with producer Andrew van den Houten here. Also, don’t forget to pick up Diabolique Issue #17, our incredibly great and star-studded horror-comedy issue, which is available for preorder now and will be on shelves and available for Digital Download soon!
– By Chris Hallock