“Rust Creek” is a classic 85 minute thriller in a 105 minute wrapper, a visceral enough hillbilly meth cooks take a hostage tale whose many sins might be corrected by pacing.
It’s reasonably well thought-out and cast, but it’s slow. And with slack pacing come sloppy lapses in logic, delaying the inevitable in ways that aren’t helpful.
Hermione Corfield of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” is Sawyer Scott, a Kentucky college coed we meet as she runs laps. She’s fit, she’s confident of this job interview she has in D.C. and perhaps too confident in her ancient Jeep Grand Cherokee and her phone’s GPS.
Because yelling at the phone in the middle of Appalachia never helps.
“This doesn’t make any sense. Just REROUTE me!”
Sawyer is lost, and the good ol’boys who offer “assistance” are a reminder that there’s no such thing as “good” ol’boys in the movies.
“These woods, they can be a crazy place,” offers the smarter brother (Micah Hauptman, oozing bad intentions). “You look upset.”
He gets her map out of her hands, and he’s sidling over to cut her off from her car door when she trots out her college campus #MeToo defense — “You’re starting to make me feel uncomfortable.” The boys (Daniel R. Hill is brother Buck) underestimate the college girl. She fights like a Fury, bloodies them both and even though she gets stabbed in the leg, makes her escape.
But then she’s into the woods with just the clothes on her back, her wits and some good old fashioned screenwriting “coincidences” to save her on this long Thanksgiving weekend.
She eludes capture, but her wound turns bad and the weather isn’t helping. Being tough, she waits a day or so before bursting into tears. It’s the blacking out that pays-off, though, as a mysterious stranger (Jay Paulson) comes along.
But this guy living in the rotting-out mobile home is no salvation. He’s a meth cooker, and like everybody else in this corner of Kentucky, he’s related to Sawyer’s tormentors. She proceeds to lose most of her assertive (not passive) edge and learn the chemistry of “cooking” as she hides from the siblings who keep showing up to check on the work.
An oddly-unconcerned sheriff (Sean O’Bryan) should be on the “abandoned vehicle” case, but isn’t. His deputy (Jeremy Glazer) isn’t the only one trying to get him interested.
And the plot thickens as the meth cooks, the “hostage” and her guard bond over “chemistry,” and we get a heaping helping of meth cooking instructions and chemical foreshadowing.
As in “this could blind you” and “just one spark and this blows up” and the like.
“Rust Creek” – the title is of course, the setting — settles into a torpid lack of urgency far too early to make this simple plot, with a four big action beats, fly along. Director Jen McGowan has a script with a few good fights and a handful of decent lines. But she dawdles and “Rust Creek” rusts, right before our eyes.
I was more interested in Sawyer showing off her self-sufficiency, peeling off her fake nails and getting down to the business of out hustling, out fighting or outsmarting her inbred pursuers.
“Figure this out! Everything’s going to be fine!”
But no, let’s have a man play her reluctant savior.
The object lessons in such movies — your cell phone won’t save you, etc. — are rung up, only to have the script lean heavily on the next coincidence, the next too-obvious means of escape.
We may instantly identify with the plucky coed, instantly fear and loathe the camo-loving locals and compliant law enforcement. But those are the only time-savers “Rust Creek” employs.
The violent payoffs are well-staged and edited, and the archetypes solid. But McGowan can’t force herself or her cast to just get on with what they know they must get on with. The “Creek” never quite dries up, but we never get to the rapids either.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some drug material
Cast: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan, Denise Dal Vera, Jeremy Glazer, Micah Hauptman
Credits: Directed by Jen McGowan, script by Julie Lipson. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:44