by Hope Madden
College co-ed (Hermione Corfield) follows her GPS into the backwoods of Kentucky, and hits a dead end before bumping into some less-than-helpful locals: tussle, injury, escape into the woods.
I don’t know how many times you’ve seen that very film, but I have probably seen it twice already this week. (It’s a problem, I know.)
This woman-in-peril pairing with the “city folk lost in the backcountry” formula equals one very tired experience.
The fact that filmmaker Jen McGowan, working from a script by Julie Lipson, offers us a victim/heroine who fights and thinks is not quite enough to save Rust Creek from drowning. But McGowan’s tricky, and she has more surprises packed in her double-wide than you might think.
The film, on its surface, asks us to rethink the victim in a hillbilly thriller. But Rust Creek cuts deeper when it requires that we—and the heroine, for that matter—rethink the hillbilly.
Michelle Lawler’s cinematography sets a potent mood, enveloping the proceedings in an environment that is in turns peaceful and gorgeous or treacherous and brutal, and she does it with natural, almost poetic movement.
This imagery allows the Kentucky woods to become the most vibrant character in the film, although those tree-covered hills are peopled by a few locals worthy of notice—not all, but a few.
Jay Paulson—best known to normal people for his brief stint on Mad Men, best known to my people as the porn-obsessed psychopath in Robert Nathan’s Lucky Bastard—cuts an intriguing, lanky figure as Lowell.
Slyly fascinating from the moment he takes the screen, Paulson shares an uncommon onscreen chemistry with Corfield. The smart, human relationship they build as they bide their time and cook some meth may be reason enough to see Rust Creek.
McGowan doesn’t burst as many clichés as she embraces, unfortunately. Still, the biggest obstacle facing her as she maneuvers her tropes to serve a (hopefully) unexpected purpose is that her protagonist is the least interesting character in the movie. This is not necessarily Corfield’s fault. She does what she can with limited resources. Sawyer is just the fuzziest character, and the one with the least articulated arc.
That means the resolution packs less of a wallop than it should, but certain moments and characters will linger.