The protagonist in director Jen McGowan’s “Rust Creek” is an empowered, resourceful young woman.
We see that in the way she deals with adversity and constantly improvises to save her skin.
The lectures, clunky metaphors and other neon signs telling us this is a feminist thriller. It’s just … a thriller, and a rather good one at that. The fact that it features a strong woman doesn’t invade the storytelling.
Hermione Corfield (“Fallen,” “Mr. Holmes”) stars as Sawyer, an ambitious college senior driving to a big job interview. She gets lost along the way, pulling over to peruse an old-school map after her phone’s GPS fails her.
We can all relate.
A pair of locals drives by, pretending to be of service but with ghastlier plans for her. She fends them off and flees, alone, with precious little resources.
You may think you know what happens next. And, for a short while, “Rust Creek” delivers. Only the pacing isn’t as tight as you might expect, and the “girl getting stalked” template quickly grows stale. That isn’t the story McGowan and co. want to tell, though.
The screenplay pivots, delving into both local corruption and a complicated character (Jay Paulson) who isn’t what he appears. Now, we’re on to something fresh and vital.
Corfield is partly to blame for “Rust Creek” grabbing us like it does. She’s a realistic heroine, working snugly with a script that allows for her strengths and weaknesses. Sawyer can be condescending at times, but never in a way that stops us from rooting her on.
That’s on Corfield.
— IFC Midnight (@IFCMidnight) December 8, 2018
Sawyer has a thorough sense of self despite her years. It might be her most beguiling feature.
From a narrative perspective, McGowan makes sure we can see Sawyer think through her predicament. It’s a brainy approach that enriches the material on several fronts.
Not every element of “Rush Creek” is so articulate. A few sequences feel like the screenplay is pushing and pulling us in a specific direction. It rarely distracts us from Sawyer’s life-threatening plight.
FAST FACT: Jen McGowan is the founder of filmpowered.com, a professional networking site dedicated to women in the film industry.
“Rust Creek” stumbles on the “backward locals” trope by default. When we first meet Micah Hauptman and Daniel R. Hill, both excellent as the seedy locals, they check off every stereotype possible. The film offers other characters, though, which broaden the story and poke holes in the genre templates.
The best example? Sean O’Bryan plays a hard-charging sheriff who relishes his fiefdom. His character matures over time, aligned perfectly with the storyline’s signature hook.
Genre movies like “Rust Creek” often pit innocents against improbable odds. Many entertain based on that streamlined premise alone. What this yarn does is assume audiences crave something meatier in their survival stories.
HiT or Miss: “Rust Creek” takes a well-worn genre and gives it a hearty, overdue shake.