'Rust Creek': Film Review

A modest but involving rural-captivity tale.
1/11/2019

Jen McGowan's sophomore feature strands a woman in the backwoods with assorted meth entrepreneurs.

Having made her feature debut with a quasi-romance between a new mother and the disabled teenager obsessed with her (2014's Kelly & Cal), director Jen McGowan finds a more genre-situated tale for Rust Creek, in which a sharp college student gets stranded far from civilization with some meth-making locals trying to kill her. As in the previous film, much relies on the sympathetic performance of McGowan's star, Hermione Corfield, who is spared many of the usual girl-in-jeopardy indignities. Though the story itself is nothing new, Corfield proves ready to move beyond playing "Record Store Girl" or "Siren 3" in big Hollywood pictures.

Corfield's Sawyer doesn't get much backstory — just a couple of scenes hinting at her ambitions to leave Kentucky behind once she graduates from college. Offered a job interview in Washington, D.C., she skips going home for Thanksgiving and hits the road.

But GPS leads her astray, and while stuck many miles from the highway, she is approached by two brothers who've stumbled out of a hicksploitation flick. Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) offer help, but the interaction gets sticky in no time; Sawyer knows how to defend herself, but soon she's out in the woods, suffering a nasty leg wound and having injured the fellas just enough to make them want to hunt her down.

Cutaways to the nearest town suggest it'll be a while before anyone starts looking for our hero. Sheriff O'Doyle (Sean O'Bryan), a good ol' boy with impressively arched eyebrows, is none too worried about the car left abandoned on one of his back roads, but his less laissez-faire deputy (Jeremy Glazer) may manage to get an investigation going despite him. Meanwhile, Sawyer crosses paths with Lowell (Jay Paulson), a meth cook who is either going to save her or keep her tied up in his trailer house indefinitely.

The dynamic inside that trailer gives the film its shot at novelty, even if Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard's script doesn't quite make the scenario pay off. While Sawyer tries to decide whether she can trust Lowell, the two bond over the fascinatingly lethal properties of the ingredients he works with; she helps him cook up a batch while getting an inkling that Lowell, too, is stuck someplace he doesn't want to be. In a couple of awkward moments, the script strains to turn talk of chemical reactions into homespun philosophy; we're on more solid ground once Lowell's armed associates begin to wonder if something's up with him.

Wintry, bare-trees photography by Michelle Lawler brings a welcome naturalism to the story; happily, McGowan doesn't try to turn the modest material into a nail-biting thriller. While grim confrontations between men with guns don't always convince us, they at least don't upstage the survival tale at the movie's heart.

Production company: Lunacy
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Micah Hauptman, Daniel R. Hill, Sean O'Bryan, Jeremy Glazer
Director: Jen McGowan
Screenwriters: Julie Lipson, Stu Pollard
Producer: Stu Pollard
Executive producers: Jamie Buckner, Alexandra Jensen
Director of photography: Michelle Lawler
Production designer: Candi Guterres
Costume designer: Alexis Scott
Editor: David Hopper
Composer: H. Scott Salinas
Casting directors: Jeremy Gordon, Caroline Liem

Rated R, 108 minutes