Fighting off a bunch of backwoods yokels is nothing new to horror movies, but somehow Rust Creek makes this old tale feel fresh and tense.
Currently available to rent on just about every major streaming platform, IFC’s Rust Creek starts with a young, smart college woman who’s just about to begin her adult life. Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) is heading out on her first major job interview. The agency she interned with the previous summer was so impressed with her, she’s going all the way to DC to meet with them and discuss starting actual employment after graduation. Sawyer is quick thinking, runs track, but is quieter about her hard work and potential than some of her contemporaries.
On the long drive to the interview, Sawyer is alerted by her phone’s navigation that there’s traffic ahead, suggesting another route. Had Sawyer known that she was in a horror film, she likely wouldn’t turn off the highway and into the Kentucky woods, but there’s no way to know what genre you’re in until the action starts. She gets lost, loses cell service, and pulls over to the side of the road to try to read an old-fashioned paper map on her hood when a couple of good old boys offer to “help” her. This escalates quickly and leaves Sawyer running for her life through those woods. She may not know what she’s running for, but she’s certain what she’s running away from.
Sawyer is crafted as an intelligent, but not necessarily infallible character. She thinks on her feet and doesn’t make any stupid mistakes, but she does make choices that are consistent with someone who may not be used to tracking an animal or person through the forest. This makes Rust Creek a midpoint between You’re Next and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in terms of victims making terrible or excellent decisions. She’s no Wonder Woman, but she’s not a disposable sorority girl neither.
Rust Creek also does some truly interesting work commenting about the world of these men who are hunting a young woman. Never for a second does it let them off the hook for being the loathesome, misogynist, violent jackasses they are, but it does look at the more sympathetic characters she meets with a kind eye. Not everyone in those woods is a terrible person, and class immobility and economics play larger roles than Sawyer may want to admit.
Not every horror film takes the time to examine the situation Sawyer finds herself in. Granted, not every film should, but all of these factors come together to make Rust Creek one of the more contemplative, and smart, killer redneck films out there.