“Rust Creek” is “Little Red Riding Hood” set in the Kentucky Appalachians, where instead of wearing a red cloak, she drives a red SUV, and the big, bad wolf is a couple of hairy, backwoods meth-cooking hicks.
Red Riding Hood, in this telling, is Sawyer (Hermione Corfield), a college student, who is off to visit her grandmother. I’m sorry—off to a job interview in Washington, D.C.
Too much highway traffic! Take the shortcut! The GPS can’t deal with the detours and reroutes her hither and thither, deeper into the somber maze of Kentucky hill country.
No good can come of this, obviously; it’s the standard hillbilly-horror opening gambit, and here it’s hugely boring for a good 25 minutes, coupled with the weighty dread of meeting the inevitable wolf, er, wolves. Red Riding Hood is so pretty and blond, after all.
But, there’s a nice little surprise. Allow me a quick tangent: I recall the time I was asked by a fellow staffer of the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure to come and give a talk at his daughter’s graduation ceremony about the miseries of trying to be an artist in Manhattan. (She had artistic dreams, and he was a hedge-fund accountant.)
Afterward, a pretty little blond female person came up to me and told me she might also want to be an actor. I asked, “What other hobbies do you have?” Her 18-year-old self said, “I have a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.” I immediately thought, “Aha! You go, girl-child!”
Girls today are not so Little Red Riding Hood-ish. Some of them can seriously kick your behind (like the lovely, kind, beautiful, sweet Holly Holm—UFC bantamweight champion). Which is a good, fun, new aspect to the telling. And logical, since the makers of this movie are all women.
I’ve always said, had I had some daughters, I would have, instead of sitting on the porch with a shotgun on prom night, had my girls in jiu-jitsu classes at age 3, and they’d have been extremely proficient with a side arm come high school graduation.
So when Sawyer Riding Hood gets out of the SUV to spread an old-school paper map on the hood, a couple of local yahoos—Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill)—in the classic pickup stop to “help,” and end up inviting her back to their shack to “party.”
Let’s just say they don’t manage to get their filthy paws on her, and soon she’s running away from the wolves. She might be limping from a massive leg wound, but they’re plenty dinged up too. I enjoyed that.
Unfortunately, Sawyer’s dad didn’t have the foresight I do; he didn’t also enroll his girl-child in Tom Brown Jr.’s tracking, wilderness survival, and nature awareness courses. And so there she is in the freezing Kentucky woods, with no knowledge of how to build a leaf hut or make fire with a hand drill.
As luck would have it, she happens upon Lowell (Jay Paulson), a Kentucky-holler manufacturer of controlled substances. He’s not a talkative dude. He fixes her leg wound. He also ties her to the steam pipe. Out of the frying pan, into the meth lab? Maybe.
Everybody knows everybody in the “holler” (mountain hollow), so her two would-be rapists eventually show up and sniff around, noting (in that scary, smarter-than-you-think-they-are fashion) that Lowell usually invites them in for a beer, but for some interesting reason, he’s now greeting them on his porch.
So Sawyer and Lowell kinda become friends; he’s essentially kind, displays great courage, stoicism, ingenuity, and protection, and is an endearing backwoods monastic seeker of sorts. Lowell basically steals the whole movie.
A good example is when he’s questioned about whether he would prefer a room full of pennies or a stack of pennies as high as the Empire State Building. He would choose the stack, because what a sight that would be: a stack of pennies, reaching into the heavens. Nobody’d ever have witnessed such a thing. People would come from miles around just to see it.
What else? Oh yeah, don’t trust the local constabulary.
Should You Go See This Movie?
As mentioned, the first 25 minutes is watching grass grow and paint dry. It’s a testament to director Jen McGowan, the degree to which she’s able to get some fairly decent storytelling going after such a bad start. But it’s this bad start that requires me to advise—wait for it on Netflix. It’s not any kind of bang for your buck.
What’s good is the landscape portrait of bleak, November-ish Kentucky woods. That’s not particularly exciting, but if you get yourself in a visual appreciation mode, you’ll raise a glass to the cinematography.
On the downside, if you’re sensitive to details such as the protagonist, dressed in jeans and a thin sweater, not shivering even a little bit in the freezing-enough-to-form-icicles woods, then it’s a tad disappointing.
Then there’s the aspect of Red Riding Hood having an ever-so-slightly entitled, snotty attitude. Just a trace. There are tears, but one senses a sort of “Ugh! If only my stupid GPS hadn’t messed up, I wouldn’t be here with these stupid people!” attitude. Which makes her ever so slightly less easy to root for than if she was more like the real Red Riding Hood.
But then, apparently, the whole thesis of this telling is: Girls don’t have to be helpless and apologetic anymore; they can have a smartphone calendar, GPS, and an ambitious agenda. They can head-butt you in the face if you get in the way. Good for them.
Director McGowan has definitely herewith put herself on the map. And much like Jennifer Lawrence’s debut in “Winter’s Bone” (about a similar, down-and-out, scraping-by hill community in late November-ish southwest Missouri) Hermione Corfield is going to get noticed.
“Winter’s Bone” is the superior work, and Lawrence is the superior actress, not to mention the portrayals of a pack of brutal, clannish women therein, headed up by actress Dale Dickey, and John Hawkes’s truly scary turn as a coke-dealing uncle.
But “Rust Creek” is a companion piece and readily joins its hillbilly horror/thriller, illicit Appalachian drugs/moonshine kin, along with “Deliverance” (1972), “Lawless” (2012), “Out of the Furnace” (2013), “Child of God” (2013), and “The World Made Straight” (2015), to name a few.
Director: Jen McGowan
Starring: Hermione Corfield, Denise Dal Vera, Jeremy Glazer, Micah Hauptman, Daniel R. Hill, Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 4
Rated 3 stars out of 5