We catch-up with Sawyer (Corfield) at her college, running around the track, when her exercise is interrupted by a phone call. It's a message about an interview for a job she has applied for in Washington. Setting a solo course for the interview, her GPS tracking becomes messed up along the way, taking her to a road that is no longer in service, and leaving her lost in the woods of Rust Creek. A pair of males, Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) pull over to help Sawyer out, but they have no intention of being a good Samaritan at all. They proceed to harass her, attempt to sexually assault her, but Sawyer holds her own, talking one to the ground, and cutting the other with a knife. She runs away, but not without getting her own leg cut in the process, and like a wounded animal, Sawyer is running in the woods without a clue of where she is. Her survival is not a guarantee and local sheriff O'Doyle (Sean O'Bryan) might not be the best help in town either.
The plot of Rust Creek is self explanatory, with what some would consider too little substance to analyze, but I found myself conflicted with the direction McGowan takes the film. The early moments of the hunt are thrilling, where the director uses long overhead tracking shots of Sawyer galloping through the terrain. The performance from Corfield is impressive from the get-go. She never loses focus on her leg, which continues to bleed, straight leg limping, while her pants go from a white to a crimson black. She carries herself as someone who has her life together, but the conditions of cold weather, the fear of the unknown, and two mad hunters on her trail keep her senses alert. It's when she is taken to safety by a meth cooker named Lowell (Jay Paulson) where the narrative takes a drastic shift to a slower pace. McGowan attempts to bring a contrast between the misunderstood country man and the doe-eyed heroine, developing a friendship based on the little things they can bond over, such as chemistry.
Although I was significantly turned off by Rust Creeks massive second-act tonal shift, I could also appreciate the effort McGowan and co-writers Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard embraced to develop the internal conflict of these characters. Lowell is a lonely person, being pushed around by Hollister to provide drugs for his illegal deals. Sawyer's presence has been the best thing to enter his trailer park door and for our hero, she finds a bit of comfort in meeting at least one-person that she could trust. It also helps that Rust Creek has a pure, authentic backwoods Kentucky look that kept me always fearful of what Sawyer does not know.
The third act is where the chase picks back up. Sawyer avoiding the original two creeps that were after her and even more obstacles that she could not foresee. More of the locals in town become involved, even some attempting to protect those responsible for our heroes peril. With each minute that passes, every character seems to be hoping that Sawyer's presence is just a passing moment, something that can be erased quicker than the wind that blows through the trees. It's for those reasons, and more, that's why I was a fan of Rust Creek. The drama is all right there. This is a compact, intense thriller, extremely aware of its surroundings. Rust Creek is a survival film, but it is also a cool metaphor for one woman's fight against a plethora of life’s challenges. If Sawyer ever makes it to Washington, trust me, she should get the job.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: RUST CREEK
STARRING: HERMIONE CORFIELD; MICAH HAUPTMAN; JAY PAULSON
DIRECTED BY: JEN MCGOWAN
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
During January, we typically get a collection of early releases that fade into oblivion or you're playing catch up with the awards season pictures that still flood the cineplex. That is why this might be the perfect week for taking a chance on an IFC Midnight movie called Rust Creek. Director Jen McGowan wastes little time to grab our attention in this exciting survival thriller, where a college woman finds herself lost in the woods, running for her life from a pair of attackers. It's a bit like Black Rock, Deliverance, or any other movie about a person being hunted for their lives, but it's cool to see McGowan trust her lead actor Hermione Corfield to carry the emotions on her shoulders. Rust Creek is intense early-on, an isolated thriller, and finds a moral arc for our heroes journey. I was digging Rust Creek all the way to the end.