Sunday, November 4, 2012
Mean Creek could be described as a cross between Stand by Me and Deliverance. One day, Sam (Rory Culkin) gets beat up by middle school bully George (Josh Peck). Sam turns to his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) to help get back at George, and they enlist Rocky's friends Clyde (Ryan Kelley) and Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) in a scheme to lure George on a rafting trip in the woods where they can humiliate him. Along for ride but initially not privy to the group's ulterior plan is Millie (Carly Schroeder), Sam's girlfriend. The plan eventually sets in motion, but then, things go horribly, horribly wrong.
Growing up, at best, can be a time of discovery, learning, and innocence, but as we all know, it can also be a time of cruelty, shame, and resentment. Too often, children and teenagers can act as wrong as adults, but unlike adults who should know better, kids can be unknowingly horrible to each other or at the very least oblivious to the hurt they cause. The best we can hope for is they be good most of the time and eventually grow out of the bad behavior. Bullying is currently a hot topic in the news these days, but as the movie, shows it's not always a black-and-white scenario.
That complexity extends to the other characters, and it becomes apparent he's not the only bully figure. Marty, who is always knocking Clyde for having two gay dads, is only along for the trip as an excuse to humiliate someone he considers lesser than him. When the group decides to call off the prank, he's the only who refuses and in fact forces them to a point of no return. He drinks and smokes and always seem angry, but he too is a victim of bullying; his older brother is especially mean to him, and he's especially sensitive to talk about his father, who committed suicide. He and his brother live in a squalid trailer, and school is a less attractive option than shooting empty liquor bottles.
Even the ostensibly "good" characters have a nasty streak to them. Millie, when she learns the group's plan, is appalled and pressures to Sam to call it off, which he does. But when Marty tries to force the prank through, it is Millie who relents first when George continues to act abrasive and vulgar. Unlike George, who it could be argued doesn't know better, Millie clearly understands the cruelty she partakes in, and it's a chilling moment when she tells Marty to continue with a game of Truth or Dare to initiate the plan. It's one thing to defend the well-meaning, slow-witted fat kid who's a little rough around the edges, but when he tries peeking up your skirt with his camera, tells dirty jokes, and acts like a pig, suddenly a little payback doesn't seem so bad.
Written and directed by first-time director Jacob Aaron Estes, Mean Creek is not a thriller but a powerful and haunting drama. The performances by all the young actors (who actually look the age of the characters they portray) work extremely well, and Estes does an excellent job of capturing both these kids day-to-day lives at home and school as well as their fateful trip on the river and its fallout. It's really effective.