When five youngsters plot to give a teenage bully his comeuppance, the results are more devastating than they ever imagined in this unsettling tale of adolescent revenge. Cross Lord of the Flies with Deliverance and you get some idea of what goes on when the quintet lure their nemesis on a river boat trip on an apparently idyllic summer's day. Jacob Aaron Estes' impressive debut is by turns poignant and shocking.
Jacob Aaron Estes
The aptly named Mean Creek is the setting for a vicious act of revenge on a fat misfit that gets out of hand with disastrous results.
The victim is school bully George (Joshua Peck), a lardy loner reviled by his classmates for always getting away with his spiteful attacks on them.
After a particularly nasty assault on shy Sam (Culkin), his protective older brother Rocky (Morgan) vows a satisfyingly elaborate revenge.
Conning George into thinking its Sam's birthday, Sam, Rocky, his buddies Marty and Clyde persuade him to take a rowing boat trip down a sleepy Oregon river.
Under the ruse of a laidback day out, the boys plan to strip him, toss him over the side of the boat and force him into a humiliating naked walk home.
However, George disarms them with a birthday present for Sam and when it begins to emerge he's nothing more than a mouthy yet lonely kid desperate for friendship, their resolve falters.
No, it falters for all of them bar the troubled Marty, the son of a drunken suicide, who insists the vengeful prank continue just as planned.
Thanks to natural performances from the young cast, particularly the Matt Dillon-like Scott Mechlowicz as Marty, and Carly Shroeder as Sam's horrified girlfriend Millie, this grips like bindweed.
Shot on a hand held camera, director Estes nicely captures the lazy, hazy summer day turning into something darker as pent-up aggression finds its focus in the maladjusted George.
Like the smooth-flowing river, it's not a movie to be rushed... and you certainly don't know what's round the next bend.
Wind in the Willows it ain't.