October 7, 2004

Mean Creek

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Truth or dare? Truth: The last movie I”ve seen that understood its characters as well as Jacob Aaron Estes” debut Mean Creek was The Silence of the Lambs. From the opening sequence of George (Josh Peck) pummeling Sam (Rory Culkin) for using his assailant”s camera, we transcend the lives of a half dozen adolescents. While the story itself takes an unorthodox path through the winds and river-bends, the Stand By Me meets Deliverance storyline captures the true essence of each persona, providing tension, familial connections, and confused angst that pushes the story further than any viewer could possibly expect. In its running time of 90 minutes, we see adults for about thirty seconds. For the remaining 89:30, the endless yet believable combination of friends, brothers, enemies, lovebirds, etc. act as their own parental units. They smoke, drink, fight, find solace, and have deep heart-to-hearts with each other, independent of wherever their parents may be. And so, as Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) beats up his friends the same way his older brother attacked him earlier, and as Sam is potently influenced by his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan), it becomes very easy to see that these teenagers serve as stand-ins as each other”s parents in this captivating atmosphere.

Marty”s and Rocky decide to avenge Sam”s embarrassing ass-whooping by plotting a devious reversal on heavy-set George. Originally it”s just to get back at the pudgy character, most obviously based on Piggy from Lord of the Flies with a tad of Piggy from Deliverance (Squeal, Piggy, Squeal!). However, as they ride in their boat up the river, it turns out that George is a nice kid. He”s funny in his own, Napoleon Dynamite kind of self-deprecating way, and he”s overly crowd-pleasing. The boys and Sam”s girlfriend, Millie, begin to forget their original plan until, of course, a game of truth or dare leads to unforeseen consequences. Upon discovering that he was originally brought out to the river to be tricked, George”s other personality emerges as he lays into every other person in the boat. We see the side of him that attacked Sam when this film opened, and the psychosis of the heavy-set charmer immediately comes under question. For his young friends, it becomes even more of a shock. One by one, George mocks his peers” parents, and it immediately affects each of them. The parents, after all, are the shortcomings of each child. George, in his fanatical and frantic potty-mouth blabber, crystallizes the lost child in each of his friends. One by one, the onlookers decide to go on with the original plan.

From the slow-edged soundtrack and the divergent yet natural paths that each character takes, the expected twists are more than made up for by the excellent direction of characters. As Mean Creek lingers from moments of loose, childish comedy to moments of stark, adolescent confusion, it encapsulates the time and place that its characters co-exist in. In doing so, and in providing its thesis in the moments that we view through the point-of-view of a recording video camera, the detached yet emotional vibe echoes powerfully. Dare: I dare you to take a ride down Mean Creek. Its cast is young, but its message is old and stronger than oak.

4 1/2 Stars

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer