Right from the beginning, “Rust Creek” signifies that something bad is going to happen. While everything looks fine and normal for its heroine at first, we can already see that she is heading to a big trouble, and we surely get a number of tense moments as she finds herself thrown into a very dangerous situation which may cost her life if she is not careful. The movie maintains well the level of tension via these good moments during its first act, but then it unfortunately begins to lose its narrative momentum during its middle act, and it is disappointing to see the movie plodding into the last act without much surprise or suspense for us.
During the opening scene, we are introduced to Sawyer (Hermoine Corfield), a young college senior student who has just received a good news from some company in Washington D.C. For her upcoming job interview, she will have to take a long car trip alone, but she is not particularly worried because she has a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to guide her, and we soon see her driving her car along the route as instructed by her GPS device.
As she is on a state highway, Sawyer is notified that it will be blocked due to some construction work, so she takes a detour in some rural forest region, but she reaches to a dead end not long after that. To make matters worse, her GPS device turns out to be not that helpful, and she is not so sure about where the hell she is now at present even after checking a map.
When she temporarily stops her car at one point, Sawyer happens to spot two local guys from the distance. Although she does not see at all what they are doing there, these two guys are alarmed by her sudden appearance for some reason, and they subsequently follow after her and then approaches closer to her when she happens to stop her car for checking her map again. As clearly discerning that there is something very suspicious about them, she tries to get away from them as soon as possible, but, of course, they come to corner and assault her when she resists their approach, and she soon finds herself running away from them despite a serious injury on one of her legs.
While Sawyer fortunately manages to hide from them in the nearby forest, her situation becomes more desperate as time goes by. She left her smartphone in her car, so there is no way to call anyone for help, and her injured leg keeps bleeding even though she does some basic emergency treatment on it. When the night comes upon the forest, she must endure its cold darkness without anything to warm her body, and that certainly leads to more fear and despair for her.
As its heroine struggles alone in the forest during its first act, the movie effectively generates a palpable sense of danger and desolation to draw our attention more. While cinematographer Michelle Lawler did a fine job of establishing the unnerving atmosphere on the screen via several bleak shots of wide landscapes, the ambient score by H. Scott Salinas adds extra tension to its heroine’s increasingly difficult circumstance, and Hermione Corfield, an English actress who previously played minor roles in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015) and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017), is convincing in her good physical performance, which conveys well to us her character’s accumulating dread and desperation.
However, the movie begins to stray as several other characters enter the picture. After surviving the night in the forest, Sawyer is luckily found by some guy, and then he takes her to his trailer located somewhere in the middle of the forest, but, alas, it soon turns out that he is not exactly a good person. When Sawyer regains her consciousness in his trailer, she finds her wrists being tied up, and she also notices several equipments and materials for illegal methamphetamine production. Especially after she comes to find that the guy is associated with the very two men looking for her, she comes to distrust him more than before, but she has no choice but to stay in his trailer as she is quite exhausted and needs to recover from her leg injury.
Meanwhile, the movie also introduces us to the sheriff of a nearby town, who happens to be informed about a certain abandoned car outside his town. When he casually checks that car, he senses something fishy, and then, mainly thanks to one of his deputies, the state police soon come to look for the driver of that abandoned car, and he is not so pleased about that as a guy who simply wants to retire well without any problem.
I will not go into details on what will happen next, but I can tell you instead that the screenplay by Julie Lipson will not surprise you much as taking numerous obvious steps. I was not so surprised to see Sawyer and her questionable savior coming to trust each other more in the end, I was not so impressed by a certain narrative turn in the middle of the story, and I was not so jolted by the artificial finale which is one of many contrived elements in the film.
“Rust Creek” is the second feature film directed by Jen McGowan, who previously debuted with “Kelly & Cal” (2014). Although I have not seen that film, the good technical aspects of “Rust Creek” show me that McGowan is a competent filmmaker, and I can only hope that she will soon advance further from this minor genre piece.