Mean Creek is an example of why people should support independent filmmaking, especially in America. Too often is it all about the big bucks being made and little thought is put into the creative process. Although there are flaws in this film I can forgive them because the filmmakers have given us something other than what we’re used to.
When a teen is bullied by a fellow classmate, he and a group of friends decide to play a prank on the bully by inviting him with them on a boating trip. But the plan they had in mind to get him back doesn’t exactly go to plan.
There are plenty of films out there about bullying, the effect it can have on both parties, and how something terrible comes of something that at first seemed semi-innocent. But they don’t usually tell us anything that we don’t already know, they just present it to us and hope that the mere fact that they’re tackling the subject will inspire thumbs up from the viewer. But what I liked about Mean Creek was the very fact that it does add something new to the mix, it gives us a new insight into the process of growing up, it lays on the table complex moral dilemmas and lets us make up our own mind about what is right and what is wrong. It’s not prefect in its endeavour to do so, and as with all fairly inexperienced filmmakers, weaknesses are noticeable, but I at least admire it for trying to tell us something new about a familiar aspect of life.
It’s not that hard to guess what the terrible thing is that happens. And in an unusual case I don’t think the film being “spoiled” for you is going to lessen your enjoyment. Whether you go in blind or you know what happens (as I did) I’m pretty sure it will have the same intended effect — it makes you think. We can all think back to our times at that age and the similar shenanigans we no doubt all got up to and ponder what we would do in the same situation as these characters. Would we panic? Would we just run away? Or would we be the one to take hold of the situation and deal with it as best as possible? Each of the characters represents a different reaction to circumstances and we are then allowed to favour that certain character according to what we feel we’d do if we were them. It’s a weakness of the film, certainly, that the characters represent this single thing (pretty much, anyway) but it allows us the comfort of taking a liking to at least one of them.
The situations (and one in particular) that come up provoke all kinds of emotions from the viewer. There are scenes towards the beginning of the movie where there is a twisted sense of happiness and satisfaction as these characters proceed with their plan to get back the bully. It then swoops and dives into areas of irritation, awkwardness, and downright rage until we get to “the incident”. It’s not a mystery or a thriller, it doesn’t want us to be shocked by the mere fact that the incident takes place, but wants us to think about the consequences and, again, what we’d do in that situation. It gives us that time to think about it, too, with lots of moments framed by haunting, low-toned music unaccompanied by dialogue. It’s a great cinematic case of less being indeed more.
Despite this, the film still manages to feel a little bit like it outstays its welcome. Even at under 90 minutes, it feels like it’s at least 15 minutes on the long side, but I guess you can’t completely blame the film for that. Nowadays it’s very rare for a film any shorter to be given a pass and I understand the need to stretch it to that 90 minute mark. However I would have liked the first 20 minutes to be trimmed around the edges, as it’s in this section that the film has more than a few unnecessary (or unnecessarily long) scenes.
Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has created an adequately effective tale of moral dilemmas, teenage behaviour, and how consequences are inevitable to purposeful or accidental acts. It’s not quite a great film but it’s certainly one worth checking out and a welcome removal from the usual big bucks mentality of modern day Hollywood.