Rust Creek takes on backwoods Kentucky for a middling survival thriller | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Rust Creek takes on backwoods Kentucky for a middling survival thriller

You may never use GPS again.

click to enlarge Rust Creek takes on backwoods Kentucky for a middling survival thriller
IFC Midnight
Rust Creek
I crave action thrillers with badass female leads, so of course, I was drawn to Rust Creek, an IFC Midnight release that happens to have a woman director (Jen McGowan) and writer (Julie Lipson).

McGowan and Lipson deliver a smart, resilient female protagonist in Sawyer (Hermione Corfield), a college senior who decides to forego her family Thanksgiving dinner for a big job interview in Washington, D.C. When her GPS strands her in the rural backwater of Kentucky, she’s approached by Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill), two brothers who have their own plans for the young woman. What transpires is a fight for survival in a backwoods world of camouflage, meth, and corrupt local law enforcement.

The film's ability to create a sense of danger without being exploitative is admirable, as my concerns over Sawyer’s fate dissipated in the first act. Except for a groping and suggestive language, there’s mercifully little sex, a welcome revelation in a genre that often uses rape as lazy character motivation. (It does bear mentioning that other films of this ilk have managed to approach sexual violence successfully, including the 2017 critical hit Revenge.) When Sawyer does feel threatened, she reacts with enough perfectly-timed kicks and punches to make me wonder if self-defense classes were a required part of her college curriculum.

Rust Creek
takes an unexpected turn when Sawyer, injured and near death, happens upon a trailer belonging to Lowell (Jay Paulson), a sensitive meth cook making product for his cousins who are – surprise – Hollister and Buck. After Lowell decides to hide her away from his deadly kin, the film pulls off perhaps its most impressive move by shipping the two unlikely characters. While the relationship remains platonic, it constantly threatens to veer into the romantic – during one strange scene, the scruffy Lowell teaches Sawyer how to cook, describing the process in a way that goes from flirtatious to near erotic.

But for all its female tenacity and curious potential pairing, Rust Creek proves far too formulaic to generate tension, as it often falls victim to predictable action tropes (it doesn’t take a film scholar to know what happens after a newly hopeful Lowell declares that he’s getting out of the meth game). And while the commitment to creating a sense of place is admirable, it grows increasingly tiresome with each whoop, holler, and folksy saying (when describing the local sheriff, Lowell, with his thick drawl, says, “He’s the worst kinda snake – he don’t rattle before he bite”). It doesn’t help that the actors are snagged right out of redneck central casting, especially the bearded Hill, whose role requires little more than hanging in the background looking like a young Steve Earle.

Rust Creek might make you never want to use GPS again, but the effect wears off pretty quickly after this forgettable survival thriller ends.

Rust Creek opens on Fri., Jan. 11 at the Regent Square Theater. 1035 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square.