A survivalist thriller becomes a study of trust and social class in “Rust Creek,” a well-acted, well-plotted backwoods noir. Director Jen McGowan and screenwriter Julie Lipson take too leisurely of an approach to a story that should be more taut, but the attention they pay to characters and setting makes a difference in how the movie plays out.
“Rust Creek” begins simply, with Hermione Corfield playing Sawyer, a student taking a last-minute trip through Kentucky for a job interview. When she gets lost, two shady locals — Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) — attack her. But the college track star escapes, going deeper into the wilderness.
There, she’s rescued by Hollister’s cousin Lowell (Jay Paulson), a meth cook with a kind heart and tragic past. Meanwhile, a good ol’ boy sheriff (Sean O’Bryan) is at odds with his gung-ho deputy (Jeremy Glazer) over how much effort to put into finding Sawyer, given that their constituents don’t much like lawmen poking around their properties.
Too many scenes run longer than they need to, padded out with overly folksy and reflective dialogue. But McGowan makes good use of autumnal Appalachia, staging a lot of scenes outdoors in the barren, brown hills.
Even better is “Rust Creek”’s feel for how these people are all making the best — or in some cases the worst — of bad circumstances, in a place where money’s scarce. By the time the film turns back into a rural chase story, it’s clear exactly what everyone’s running after.
Rated: R, for violence, language and some drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 11, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD