15th Mar2019

MANIFF 2019: ‘Rust Creek’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Micah Hauptman, Daniel R. Hill, Sean O’Bryan, Jeremy Glazer | Written by Julie Lipson, Stu Pollard | Directed by Jen McGowan

rust-creek-poster

Rising British star Hermione Corfield takes the lead in Rust Creek, an engaging low budget survival thriller that starts out like a Wrong Turn knock-off but becomes something more substantial instead.

Directed by Jen McGowan (making her second feature, following 2014′s Kelly & Cal), Rust Creek centres on Kentucky college student Sawyer Scott (Corfield), who impulsively decides to skip Thanksgiving with her family and drive to Washington D.C. for a job interview. However, her GPS strands her in the frozen backwoods, where she has an encounter with scuzzy meth-dealers Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) that leaves her injured and fleeing for her life.

After collapsing, Sawyer is rescued by meth cook Lowell (Jay Paulson) and hides out in his trailer, though she’s not entirely sure she can trust him. Meanwhile, Sheriff O’Doyle (Sean O’Bryan) pretty much shrugs off Sawyer’s abandoned car, leaving his eager deputy (Jeremy Glazer) to investigate instead.

Effortlessly nailing the American accent, Corfield (who looks a lot like Zoe Kazan) is terrific as Sawyer, bringing a naturalism to her performance that is extremely engaging. She may have landed in the middle of a genre movie, but her actions and reactions are entirely realistic throughout – there’s a thoughtfulness to her character that’s both disarming and refreshing. The supporting cast are equally good, particularly Paulson, who teeters tantalisingly on the line between good-hearted would-be saviour and creepy weirdo – the fact that his first instinct is to tie Sawyer up in his trailer doesn’t exactly make a good first impression. Similarly, O’Bryan is great value as the genial Sheriff, while Hauptman and Hill make an effective double-act as the not-too-bright criminals.

What makes Rust Creek stand out is the subtle change in direction it takes after Sawyer wakes up in Lowell’s trailer. After establishing that there’s really nowhere for her to run to, the film slows down to allow such unexpected scenes as Sawyer and Lowell bonding over the intricacies of meth cooking, as it turns out the pair have more in common than they might think.

That’s not to say that the film forgets its roots, and McGowan proves she can stage an exciting climax with the best of them, without ever going over the top in the action department. Indeed, the only drawback in the film is a slightly dodgy special effects sequence that doesn’t quite convince.

Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard’s script is a definite highlight, most notably in the way it both embraces and subverts genre conventions. Similarly, the dialogue is a cut above the usual standard for this sort of thing, and the interactions between the various characters are nicely observed. The film is further heightened by impressive cinematography from Michelle Lawler, who makes the most of the natural landscape – at times Rust Creek resembles Winter’s Bone, which was almost certainly a reference point, given the film’s plot and location.

In short, this is an engaging, superbly acted and smartly written survival thriller that’s well worth seeking out.

**** 4/5

Rust Creek screened at the Manchester International Film Festival on Friday 8th March and Sunday 10th March 2019.

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