A review of “Mean Creek” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for disturbing material and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

 

 

Sometimes the simplest plan resonates with chilling consequences.  Such is the case when a group of teenage boys and their lone girlfriend seek good-natured revenge on their class bully.

An extraordinary ensemble of young talent headlines this revealing thriller.  In a small Oregon town, a thoughtful middle-schooler named Sam (Rory Culkin) confesses to his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) that he’s been abused – again – by school meanie George (Joshua Peck).

Familiar with the tune since he and his buddies have suffered at the hands of this adolescent gladiator, Rocky and pals Marty and Clyde (Scott Mechlowicz and Ryan Kelley) put their heads together and devise payback for the hurt that George has laid down on them all.

A bogus birthday river trip is the stage, an enterprising adventure that George is inordinately thrilled to be a part of.  The motley crew, along with Sam’s wannabe squeeze Millie (Carly Schroeder), set off for the river full of snickery bravado.

At river’s edge, Sam and Rocky begin to see George for what he really is – a heavy, lonely kid desperate for approval and attention.  They voice their misgivings, but Marty is having none of their pity party. His anger and frustration over his own circumstances have dug a well of rage so deep that nothing will stop him from putting the plan into motion.

Mean Creek taps into a base fear; a perfectly ordinary idea that veers horribly off course towards inevitable tragedy.  The poignant story (which won writer/director Jacob Estes a prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting) represents its players’ vulnerabilities with swift and clean lines.

Culkin and company deliver some of the freshest performances of the year, inhabiting their small-town personas with unusual grace and susceptibility.  From the sting of isolation to the ills rained down by their elders, these kids exude layers of pent-up disquietude. Facing up to their moral dilemma is uncomfortably reminiscent of the sinister and unforgettable Lord of the Flies.

Hurtful, haunting, and worth a look.