Rust Creek (2018). 108 minutes. Directed by Jen McGowan. Featuring Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, and Micah A. Hauptman.
Sawyer, the protagonist of Rust Creek, is an ambitious, young college student played by Hermione Corfield. The first scene opens with a wide shot of her running track and field as Sawyer races to beat her best time. Pleased with herself, she smiles as she receives a much anticipated text that she has landed an interview for her dream job. In a moment of relief Sawyer looks pleased and relaxed. Driving alone to her interview, Sawyer gets a head start on her journey while relying on her GPS to take her into unknown parts of the woods of Kentucky. Her GPS fails her and the camera pans to show her frustrations in the light of the fading day. Stopping on the shoulder of the wide open country road she pulls out a map, spreads it out, and squints her eyes in order to make out her destination. A car passes by and stops ahead of her parked car. Two men in their mid to late 20s ask what she’s doing in this area and instill fear into her by telling her how hard it is to find her way back. Sawyer tells these boys that she is uncomfortable with their advances and she will be fine on her own. As she tried to get back into her car one of the men gropes her along her backside and tries to lure her to come back with them. Sawyer quickly defends herself. She brings him to his knees and fights the larger man but is stabbed with a knife in her leg. Quickly she runs away into the woods bleeding and alone.
The damsel in distress trope of many horror and thriller films plays on the emotional and physical instability of a helpless girl, especially when she is alone. This trope gets reworked in Julie Lipson’s script based on an original story by Stu Pollard. Sawyer is physically fit, sharp, and thinks quickly on her feet, yet she is vulnerable and alone. The point-of-view shot sweeps around the long gushing river juxtaposed with the stillness of nature. Immersing herself in the cool water to cleanse her deep wound, blood saturates what was once clean. Sawyer grimaces in pain but maintains her composure as she mentally tries to figure out her next step. Cinematographer Michelle Lawler captures the beauty and loneliness of Sawyer’s frightful journey with a long shot of her surroundings and how small Sawyer is against it. As days pass, Sawyer’s body starts to shut down due to a lack of food and medical attention. She makes out a dark shadow right before she passes out, now too weak to defend herself.
Rust Creek’s main male characters: Hollister (Micah A. Hauptman) and his cousin Buck (Daniel R. Hill) encompass toxic masculinity. Hollister wants Sawyer to please him sexually, and when she fights back, his cousin Buck tries to attack Sawyer as well. Lowell (Jay Paulson), is sensitive and nurturing towards Sawyer. His cousins Hollister and Buck possess a toxic masculinity of a predatory nature. Director Jen McGowan gets the most out of her actors with Sawyer and Lowell’s close ups as Lowell opens up about his life and the close bond he shared with his wife. This film also touches on the extreme hardships of living in a small town in middle America.
Rust Creek circles back to the uncertainty of life, the vulnerability and resilience we have in ourselves and the ability to fight back. Lowell’s vulnerability stems from his socioeconomic circumstances, but he still has the compassion to help Sawyer and himself.