Mean Creek – Harsh, Harrowing, Truthful

I’ve seen Mean Creek twice now, and it improves with a second viewing. It’s much more complex, truthful, and intriguing than I thought on the first go round.

I’ve also had the privilege of sitting down with director Jacob Aaron Estes, an approachable, easygoing, good-humored guy, refreshingly humble and softspoken. My full review of the film and my interview with Estes will appear in the next issue of Paste Magazine.

In the meantime, there’s a review up at the Catholic News Service that’s fairly accurate.

Mean Creek’s been called a “teen Heart of Darkness,” and I can see why. It’s about some kids who go out on a river boat to play a prank on a playground bully who “has it coming.” His worst behavior brings out the worst in them. You’ll likely experience a rising panic as the journey progresses, wishing you could reach into the movie and turn that boat around. Then you’ll want to give all of their parents a good talking-to.What unfolds is, at times, predictable, but the characters are all thoroughly convincing and filmed in a naturalistic style that recalls George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Raising Victor Vargas.

Rory Culkin shows even more potential here than in Signs and You Can Count On Me—his portrayal of a bullied young kid whose fleeting thoughts of revenge lead to a traumatizing experience of human evil is haunting. That kid’s intuitive sense of portraying vulnerability, confusion, fear, and need is rather unsettling.

His co-stars are equally strong, especially Scott Mechlowicz, who may have found a star-making role as Marty, the oldest of the bunch, a teen abused by his father. His reckless and destructive behavior is at once terrifying and completely believable.

The location shooting in Oregon is at times quite beautiful, and yet dismaying in its vision of a rural setting devoid of traditional families. These kids have no parents, it seems. At least, those that do certainly don’t seem to expect that their parents will check up on them at all. The way that these kids’ misbehavior stems from the absence of fathers, mothers, and God in their lives is something to consider; their thoughts about their families and beliefs are only ever-so-slightly suggested by their comments, but they are, I think, the key to understanding the movie.

There’s also a lot going on in the film’s exploration about the way that boys become men, or at least the way they THINK they should become men.I recommend that discerning grownups catch this one at the theatre while it’s available and, if you have mature, thinking teens, that you consider taking them when you see it a second time and prepare for a tough discussion afterward.

Cautionary note: A lot of harsh, crude language, typical of lonely and insecure teenage boys posturing to impress each other. This may lead you to decide that the film is inappropriate for your teens, but I’d argue that they encounter this kind of thing all the time in a public school and it would be better to talk it over with them than pretend it doesn’t exist.

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • mark

    Speaking as someone who admittedly doesn’t understand the ethics of your profession I found very little difference in the way Tim Wilson attacked Ted from the way Ted attacked Tim. Other than, of course, Tim can writes at something above the Junior High level. Speaking strictly for myself and about myself, I don’t care if the reviewer (advocate) is taking money secretly or publicly. I will listen to his reviews if they make sense and will look elsewhere if they don’t. I’m funny that way.

  • Anonymous

    Well, it’s not an article, it’s a press release, and it is appropriate to refer to oneself in the third person in a press release. The idea, of course, is that newspapers will pick up the release and run it with as little rewriting as possible.

    Of course, loading up a press release with hubris (“Christian movie expert,” “in spite of Baehr’s urgent pleas,” “DR. Baehr” [it's a JD degree, right?]) and loaded terms like “vile” and “pathetic” would seem to predestine the release for the bottom of the trash can.

    Those are the problems here, not so much the fact that he refers to himself in the third person.

    Thinking of movies in terms of shareholder value is an interesting approach. Of course, there are lots of very successful films that Baehr would find “abhorrent” (Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom, anyone?).

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Like I said … my job requires me to monitor things published by Christians in the media. Thus, it’s pretty difficult to *ignore* Baehr. In fact, since he’s so outspoken, I *need* to include him in my thoughts and responses to fairly represent what’s going on in Christian media and culture.

    Secondly, you’re right… there is a difference between printing my own name at the front of an official Web site representing my publications (something that Baehr rightly does as well) and writing an article about myself, quoting myself, and identifying myself as an authority figure. If I *ever* cross that line, just shoot me.

  • Anonymous

    I dunno … seems to me there’s a fair amount of third-person references to Jeffrey on your own Web site.

    (But none as egregious as Baehr’s. I can see the difference, but I’m not sure I would give someone like Baehr any excuse to call me a hypocrite.)

    Have you ever had any dialogue with the guy? It seems he’s more successful at ignoring you than you are at ignoring him.

  • Jeremy Landes

    After reading Ted’s article, I found it so ridiculous that I found it difficult to believe that he wrote it himself. Seemed like it was written very poorly by a college intern ghost writer. Or does this fall in line with more examples of his writing? I enjoy your blog very much.

  • mark

    I would never accuse you of not reading your Bible or being blinded by the glitter of Hollywood; however after reading your letter to those people who liked the passion, and your discourse here on Ted and those like him, I don’t think there is a straw man anywhere who can go 10 rounds with you.


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