For those of you who always wished you could get revenge on the school bully, this is a film that suggests you should be glad you didn’t. But rather than delivering a simplistic “bullies are people too” kind of message, Jacob Aaron Estes’s debut feature provides an altogether more intelligent perspective on adolescent life. There are no good guys and bad guys in Mean Creek’s collection of troubled teens – each is a flawed, realistic person who cannot be easily categorised into one of the traditional teen-movie stereotypes.

The catalyst for the film’s events is school bully, George (Josh Peck); an obnoxious, troubled teenager, who is held back from graduating school each year and regularly beats up on his younger classmates. Sam (Rory Culkin), one his latest victims, is persuaded by his older brother and friends to take revenge on George. They devise a plan to lure him out on a boat trip, strip him, throw him in the river and let him walk home naked. Inevitably though, things don’t quite go to plan, but not for all of the reasons you might necessarily think.

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For once, the filmmakers have cast a set of actors in the lead roles that are of very similar ages to the characters they’re portraying. Culkin, perhaps the most recognisable of the cast, was 14 at the time of shooting; Carly Schroeder just 13; and Peck, Ryan Kelley and Trevor Morgan, 17. Their performances are all convincing, particularly Schroeder and Peck, but also Scott Mechlowicz, who plays the older, charismatic leader of the group; someone who comes from a troubled home and is himself a victim of bullying.

Despite its 86 minute running time, the pace of the film is slow and languid, taking its time in building up the tension as the eventual confrontation on the river approaches. Curiously though, Estes fails to develop any real empathy with the characters, and so in the aftermath, the viewer feels little sympathy for the situation they find themselves in. It’s interesting to see the moral issues of their actions being discussed by these characters, but after the tension of the opening hour, it’s a little disappointing to see the film meander its way towards a conclusion.

Thankfully, the screenplay offers little in the way of moralising, instead allowing us to reflect on the actions of the characters, however much we may agree or disagree with them. The film is beautifully shot too, particularly the river sequences, and Estes is certainly a director to look out for in the future.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2006
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Teenagers plot revenge on a school bully.
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Trash Fletcher **

Director: Jacob Aaron Estes

Writer: Jacob Aaron Estes

Starring: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder

Year: 2004

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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