Review: Smart, Strong Heroine Portrayal Lifts RUST CREEK Above Other Backwoods Thrillers

Suspense thriller Rust Creek starts off in familiar hillbilly horror territory, but treads some new ground with a powerful lead female character and performance, and a rather unexpected tonal shift.

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Sawyer Scott (Hermione Corfield of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) heads to a job interview in Washington D.C. during Thanksgiving weekend but winds up lost on some country roads in Kentucky. Two rural-dwelling brothers (Micah Hauptman as Hollister and Daniel R. Hill as Buck), thinking that she may have seen them in an illegal act, initially offer help getting her back to the main roads but quickly show that they have other things in mind. Sawyer busts out some nice self-defense moves and takes off on foot into the woods, but with an injured leg, she can’t get far from this dangerous pair, it would seem.

Sawyer finds herself in a trailer inhabited by Lowell (Jay Paulson), a meth cooker well acquainted with Hollister and Buck. It is here where Rust Creek begins take an unusual tonal turn, as the previously physically tough Sawyer battles emotionally between the choices of fighting Lowell and fleeing blindly into a vast unknown landscape or putting uneasy trust into his idea to help her escape in a few days.

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Add to this a subplot about a seemingly inept local sheriff (Sean O’Bryan as O’Doyle) who wants to keep the State Troopers out of his jurisdiction, and director Jenn McGowan has plenty to juggle from Julie Lipson’s screenplay. McGowan does a solid job of keeping things rolling, though the shift from survival/suspense thriller to the dramatic elements involving Sawyer’s stay at Lowell’s trailer slow things down considerably, and the Sheriff O’Doyle subplot, though adding some interesting if occasionally predictable elements, doesn’t match the intensity of the first act.

The character of Sawyer has an air of mystery about her, and her minimal backstory actually adds more intrigue to the proceedings. Even better, Sawyer is a smart, strong character, one who thinks and fights her way out of dangerous situations. Corfield is terrific in this role, and her performance is a highlight of Rust Creek.

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The film boasts some gorgeous cinematography from Michelle Lawler, who makes the most of the heavily forested area and its accompanying scenery.

Also to its credit, Rust Creek doesn’t treat its antagonists as mere drooling, leering rednecks bent on abusing and killing city slickers for sport. Each of the baddies has what they feel is a justifiable reason for offing Sawyer.

Rust Creek doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it does offer up some fresh variations on a subgenre that too often leans on well-worn tropes. It’s a satisfying, intelligent thriller that is well worth a watch.

Rust Creek, distributed by IFC Midnight, is currently in theatres and available on VOD.