When an overachieving college senior makes a wrong turn, her road trip becomes a life-changing fight for survival in rural Kentucky.
ActorsStarring: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Sean O'Bryan, Micah A. Hauptman, Daniel R. Hill, Jeremy Glazer, John Marshall Jones, Laura Guzman, Jake Kidwell, Virginia Schneider, Denise Dal Vera
Directed by Jen McGowan, Rust Creek shows that it doesn’t necessarily take a big budget to tell an engaging story. There are two heroes in this movie: the protagonist Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) and the cinematography (Michelle Lawler) showing off the Kentucky wilderness whilst telling a story in pictures.
Sawyer is a student on the way to a job interview as the radio warns of a traffic jam ahead, causing her to take a detour via the backcountry. After a while, her navigation starts to get the roads wrong, reception disappears and Sawyer ends up lost. When she stops to peer over an old school map she is approached by two local brothers Buck and Hollister who offer help, which quickly turns creepy as they invite her back to their place and keep her from continuing on her journey. Sawyer manages to fight her way out and escape into the woods, but she has badly hurt her leg in the fight and struggles to outpace the brothers.
It turns out the brothers have some dodgy dealings going on and suspect that Sawyer might have seen something, so they will not give up trying to find her. As Sawyer flees further into the woods, she passes out from exhaustion, blood-loss and lack of food. Lowell (Jay Paulson) happens to find her and takes her back to his trailer to recover. It soon turns out that his trailer is actually a meth lab, and it doesn’t look like Sawyer’s predicament is any closer to being over.
It is a simple premise but an effective story. The first act, in particular thanks to the wonderful cinematography, is very good in creating an unsettling feeling as Sawyer loses her way. Admittedly, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite match that first half hour as, despite Sawyer’s predicament only getting more troublesome, the tension isn’t quite as palpable anymore. But there are enough ‘twists’ to keep you engaged, as the story moves from thriller to drama and there is room for some character development. Surprisingly, the most interesting character is not Sawyer.
I put ‘twists’ between quotation marks, because the movie doesn’t necessarily have a particularly unique storyline. What it does do is take a refreshing approach to female-escapes-male-danger. In terms of strong female-led cinema, Rust Creek is the polar opposite of a movie like 2018’s Revenge. Also directed by a woman (Coralie Fargeat), Revenge is the epitomy of platitudes that Rust Creek deftly avoids.
It sidesteps the storyline of rape in a remote location. It avoids showing any skin and curves to try to keep a male audience interested. It disproves the trope of male-induced trauma being necessary to awaken strength in a female victim. From the way McGowan introduces Sawyer in the opening scenes right through the final shot, there is no doubt that she is a smart, strong-willed yet pragmatic protagonist who never never feels or acts like a helpless victim.
All combined, it turns a simple story of escape and survival into a reasonably layered drama.