I totally avoided Jug Face when it was streaming on Netflix – neither the title, nor the poster appealed, and I read a bad review – but I took a chance with it tonight on the strength of a great performance by Lauren Ashley Carter in Darling, and I wasn’t let down this time either. Indie horror is definitely hit or miss, but unlike Big Studio horror that’s only concerned with how many teens they can open with on Friday night, the indie scene is more concerned with telling stories, and often some real talents emerge.
I’m a big fan of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Spring, and Resolution), but Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here), Mickey Keating (Carnage Park, Darling), and now Chad Crawford Kinkle with Jug Face have impressed me with what they can get out of small budgets. The one thread running through these creators is the obvious importance they place on character. They understand that without character there can be no true horror, just a collection of deaths and jump scares.
What I’ve also discovered is that there seems to be a couple of actors who pop up routinely in this kind of work. Blade Runner’s Sean Young appeared in Darling, and also in Jug Face, Larry Fessenden, who comes off as a kind of redneck Jack Nicholson, I’ve seen in We Are Still Here, Carnage Park, and Darling. I don’t know if this is all coincidental, but I assume not. I like that, it’s kind of like a new rep theatre, reminiscent of Tarantino’s propensity to use the same actors. And I have to say, I think indie horror has unearthed a real gem of an actor in Lauren Ashley Carter. Sure, I’ve only seen her twice, but I’ll be checking out Mickey Keating’s Pod as soon as my copy arrives and I’m looking forward to seeing her perform again. She’s got an impressively naturalistic delivery, and her big saucer eyes are a terrific shorthand for creating instant audience sympathy. I’m a big fan already, and I hope she can go on to bigger and better things without losing the innate talent she has buckets of and without having to take her clothes off to get work. No, her agent didn’t ask me to write this!
But Jug Head! Yes, I liked it well enough mostly. I have a couple of criticisms, but not really down to the story. Going in with low expectations, I was prepared for an hour and half of mediocrity, but in fact, everything about the movie is pretty decent. Photography is good, acting is mostly pretty good, direction was impressive, I thought. IMDB tells me that Kinkle hasn’t made a movie in the three years since Jug Head’s release – too bad. I hope to see more.
The story isn’t complicated and needlessly cluttered with allegory and symbolism – I’m not opposed to these elements in movies (David Lynch being a hero of mine), but some movies work just fine by telling a simple story and telling it well, and Jug Face does that. It’s a story with a mythology, and this kind of story separates the writers from the non-writers. A “non-writer” will do so much world building that they become inescapably caught up in a quagmire of exposition; a real writer will assume the audience can think for themselves and leave in only the essential elements as a framework to drape the story upon. A good example of non-writers are what The Wachowskis have become – you only need to watch Jupiter Ascending to see that. In Jug Head, the fantastic opening credits tell you all you need to know, and if you miss them, the story tells you enough. Kinkle gives the right amount of detail without ever feeling the need to stop the plot dead so that two characters can discuss what the story is about. Vanilla Sky’s climactic elevator scene is one of the most egregious examples of this, but it happens in almost every big budget, over-plotted movie out there. I didn’t have any problems whatsoever buying into the milieu of the movie, and I’ve read so many screenplays that this was almost like a breath of fresh air. The story moved at a good pace, the elements knitted together well, and the ending totally came out of nowhere for me – not so much the plot point, but definitely the story choice by Kinkle. Very good indeed.
So, it’s kind of a shame that I have to criticize a couple of the bigger elements here. The first relates to one of the lead characters, played here by Sean Bridgers (Room, Midnight Special) – he’s mostly okay, but throughout the movie he looks so much like a character that could be played by Will Ferrell, and has an unfortunately terrible couple of minutes towards the end where his delivery is exactly like that of a Will Ferrell character. It’s an odd, disjointed performance that works well sometimes, but then at other times it doesn’t work at all. Still, it’s a relatively minor quibble. My biggest gripe about the movie is the appearance of a supernatural entity in a few scenes – I found this element to be poorly conceived, and actually more than a little unnecessary. The visuals are out of place in the movie, and the actor involved was not authentic at all. I got the feeling while watching this that Kinkle felt he needed to include an overtly supernatural element to dispel any audience feelings of ambiguity within the story. The movie would have been improved a little bit without these scenes.
You might not like this movie, but I’d say if you’re a fan of indie horror and you’ve been on the fence about seeing it, give it a try.