Directed by Jacob Aaron Estes. US. 2004.

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This tale of revenge blossoms into a horror story of moral proportions when a group of kids decide to lure the school bully George (Josh Peck) onto a boat trip, play a practical joke on him and teach him a lesson. Obviously these things never turn out as expected. George is obnoxious and, yes, annoying, but writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes gets us inside his lonely mind and makes us realise that there’s more to him than a guy with a video-camera who uses small kids as a punchbag. A lesson is eventually learned, but at a terrible price.

Tricked into joining the close-knit group of ‘lesson-teachers’ on their boat, the older, meaner boys Rocky (Trevor Morgan) and Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) mock George for wanting to be their friend. Only the younger kids, Sam (Rory Culkin) and Millie (Carly Schroeder) are sensitive enough to feel sorry for George and point out that everyone wants friends. But as is predictably the case, all attempts to call off the practical joke only make the ringleaders more determined.

Mean Creek builds up an extreme feeling of unease; knowing what’s going to happen but hoping that it just won’t. Waiting for the moment of truth and still wishing it won’t come. Having seen the trailers, or having the common sense enough to understand that no-one makes a movie about an uneventful boat trip (think Titanic, Jaws, Crimson Tide, The River Wild) you will still find yourself praying that the kids get home safely.

This movie is a feast for the eyes. Beautiful Oregon scenery, sparkling water, blazing sun, cute little kids splashing each other and playing truth or dare. Juxtapose all this loveliness with death, lies, videotape and crises of conscience and you get an attack on the senses – a film that gets you scared and tense and anxious and proud and piteous and angry and worried, but most of all transfixed.

Estes has managed to create a moody, moving movie set on a sunny boat and an adult drama centred on kids. Excellent acting and honest dialogue make Mean Creek a small-town movie you’ll never forget, and never want to. 

Shari Last
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