Paint sniffing is a subject not often recounted in film; it’s a form of substance abuse that summons a uniquely sinister sense of grubby DIY intoxication. RUST, Lucy Pratt’s depiction of extreme psychosis, offers a nastily intimate encounter with a poisoned mind.

RUST’s narrator and protagonist is credited only as “Tin Man”, on account of the vessel that carries his chosen poison – or perhaps because of the gunmetal shimmer adorning his face, rubbed off from the plastic bag from which he has been sniffing. His is the only voice we hear throughout: all diegetic sound is muted to total silence as he retreats deep within his mind. In stony silence he observes his friend: a weak man who has fallen for an anonymous woman, won over by her skimpy vest and naked legs. Tin Man seems to resent them both, and to escape them he draws deeper on the paint – but finds himself confronted with a siren inside his head that doesn’t seem to be going away.

…a nastily intimate encounter with a poisoned mind…

Films focusing on the effects of drug use are often in danger of not understanding the substance they’re portraying, or falling too heavily into boring cliché. RUST’s script, however, is carefully considered; never veering into overwrought drugged up metaphor. Tin Man is not indulgent, he is matter of fact and his mind is quickly clouded by deeply introspective paranoia.

Aside from Tin Man’s overpowering, carefully written monologue, the only other sound in RUST is a drawn out soundscape. Slow and grinding, it at times resembles a siren slowed down to a snail’s pace, blaring within Tin Man’s head and blocking out everything around him. An actor’s performance is most easy to scrutinise when muted. Their physicality cannot be masked by dialogue or delivery, and they must fully encompass the physical role they have been given. Therein lies another challenge RUST gives its performers, and again the film succeeds. Characterisation is achieved deftly and relationships established carefully in the silence. Lily Lowe Myers in the role of “Woman” accomplishes slick character work especially well.

Tin Man’s monologue drives the silent action at a careful pace, and the droning soundtrack is consistently unsettling. Despite building to a rather extreme shock climax, RUST is a fine character study. Its reliance on almost total silence leaves a pure dependence on the strength of Samuel Pawson’s script – it’s a bold and risky move to leave the script completely unprotected by other sound or more significant action, but Pratt pulls it off.