Thanks to its unyielding female lead, Jen McGowan’s “Rust Creek” breaks through the genre tropes and delivers a finely crafted thriller with a dramatic understory.
When survival thrillers stumble upon the moving sands of a full-featured drama, many of them get sucked by an inscrutable movement of millions of particles. Those particles are all little things that matter – each character’s arc, character perspectives, dialogues etc., all piling up instead of building a complex story. As a result, each element slides the film further into the hole, and while you see those details at play, the deeper meaning’s lost.
The opening chapter of “Rust Creek” dangerously nudges its protagonist into such sandy mine field. With just a few scenes of introduction, hastily cramped into opening credits, director Jen McGowan moves onto Sawyer’s (main character played by Hermione Corfield) Google Maps bad stretch, and an unpleasant encounter with two local hillbillies – Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and his brother Buck (Daniel Hill).
In less responsible hands, “Rust Creek” would most likely focus on a foreseeable chain of events, where plot twists and visual gimmicks mask the sheer lack of more than just a claptrap. This, however, isn’t the case of Jen McGowan’s Sawyer.
“Rust Creek” elicits emotions thanks to Hermione Corfield’s ability to connect with the audience. Without much of a background, Corfield seeks for a relentless, tough type of a survivalist – a woman many would strive to be – without exaggerating her actions. She’s a real deal to challenge, and one that outsmarts her attackers in most cases.
The effectiveness. of Julie Lipson’s script (based on Stu Pollard’s story) lies in the way Sawyer’s little drama loses none of its grip throughout the multiple changes and tiny details unraveled as we go. But with Corfield’s fine role in its centre, the director Jen McGowan’s enabled to opt for shortcuts, or have fun with an off-topic thread that eventually traces back to the protagonist.
“Rust Creek” is most efficient in places where many other movies simply fail to deliver.
In an obviously constraint budget, the story shifts its weight to the characters. There is not an ideal depth to each one of them, with some of their actions highly disputable, but it is down to creepily realistic Micah Hauptman and Jay Paulson’s unexpected role (which I’ll leave under the cape of “too close to spoiler”) to back Corfield up.
Acting aside, Michelle Lawler’s cinematography extracts the grim nature of the grey, soulless forests and equally colourless people living in them. Environment’s pivotal to the film’s atmosphere too – it feels heavy, unwelcoming, and ready to bury a body deep enough to be left uncovered.
McGowan’s “Rust Creek” isn’t, quite naturally, any milestone to the thriller genre. With no real risk taken, the director moves along a line sketched by a limited budget and a simple story. Nonetheless, there is certainly enough space within that line to evoke dread, touch on feminism and pack convincing twists – all that wrapped in a more than consumable way.
Rust Creek (2019)
Dir. Jen McGowan
Hate Grade: 3.5/10