Thursday, January 03, 2019

Rust Creek: A Wrong Turn in Kentucky

Here in meth country, chemical literacy is nearly as high as the drop-out rate. You could say college student Sawyer Scott’s faulty GPS put her in the wrong place, at the wrong time, but there is never a right time for her to be here. Two rustic locals quickly take things in a Deliverance direction, but their motives for stalking Scott are more conventionally criminal in Jen McGowan’s Rust Creek (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Being professionally ambitious and personally reserved, Scott did not tell anyone she was driving to a job interview in DC over Thanksgiving break. That will look like a rather dubious decision when she crosses paths with brothers Hollister and Buck Pritchert. They seem to want to kill her right from “hello,” but Scott is surprisingly hard to kill. Unfortunately, she loses quite a bit of blood from a stab wound. She will get patched up by Lowell Pritchert, the brothers’ meth-cooking cousin, but it is unclear to Scott whether he has “saved” her. Regardless, she doesn’t have much choice when it comes to accepting his offer of protection, at least for the short term.

It is really hard to make a hill-and-hollow drug-dealing thriller without trafficking in a bunch of snarky stereotypes. Arguably, the last film to pull it off was The World Made Straight. McGowan shows a fair amount of restraint when it comes to gawking at the hicks, but there are still times in Rust Creek when you can hear “Dueling Banjos” in your mind’s ear.

Nevertheless, screenwriter Julie Lipson deserves credit for some nicely drawn supporting characters. Sheriff O’Doyle is also quite an intriguing villain. It is no real spoiler to call out his compromised nature, but Sean O’Bryan’s performance dramatically distinguishes him from the Rogue’s Gallery of corrupt country sheriffs we have seen before.

Frankly, Scott is the film’s blandest character, by a considerable measure. Still, Hermione Corfield handles the intense physical scenes pretty convincingly. Jay Paulson is believably squirrely as Lowell P., mostly in interesting ways and Jeremy Glazer adds some depth of character as Deputy Katz. On the other hand, Micah Hauptman and Daniel R. Hill are exactly what you would expect from the knuckle-dragging Pritcherd Brothers.

There is nothing shocking or groundbreaking about Rust Creek, but McGowan rather exceeds expectations with the taut, tense execution. Viewers who are paying attention might also pick up a thing or two about mixing common household chemicals into something new and exciting. Recommended as an eventual streaming service or down-priced VOD selection, Rust Creek opens this Friday (1/4) in New York, at the IFC Center, and also releases on iTunes.