In this edition of The Forgotten, Alex Withrow (And So It Begins…) explains why Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes, 2004) is a fantastic indie and an interesting example of the weird ways and fates of Hollywood. Thanks for sharing this film with us Alex.[Ed]
The core dilemma of the tiny and excellent indie film, Mean Creek, is one we’ve all seen before. It’s the prank gone too far. The joke with fatal consequences. It’s the lethal dose of youth, bad choices and fear, blended together to create catastrophe.
The film begins with a pointless and vicious beating of a small kid named Sam (Rory Culkin), by a big bully named George (Josh Peck). Sam’s older brother, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), isn’t too keen on his brother getting beat up, so he enlists the help of his friends, namely the dangerous Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), to enact revenge on George. Together, the guys devise a plan to throw Sam a fake birthday party and go on a boat trip. They’ll invite George, and on the boat, a game of truth or dare will be started. George will be dared to strip, and the others will flee, forcing George to walk home naked.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and George is killed as a result of the prank. Now, nothing up until this point really separates Mean Creek from other movies of its kind. Yes, the film does a fine job of establishing its characters, but George’s death hardly comes as a surprise. Where Mean Creek begins to distinguish itself is during the scenes directly following the killing. Deliverance is clearly an influence, but, in some odd way, I can’t help but notice traces of Ingmar Bergman as well. There’s a stillness that washes over the group. A quiet contemplation in which everyone involved realizes for certain that their lives will never be the same again. From these moments on, Mean Creek becomes a great film of discrete power. Everyone watching the movie is likely to ask themselves what they’d do if forced into a similar situation. The way the characters in this film go about answering that question is haunting in its simplicity.
It’s interesting to revisit the Mean Creek now, 10 years after its release. Following successful premieres at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, the film landed in a few indie theaters and ultimately went on to win the John Cassavetes Award (Best Picture for a movie costing less than $500,000) at the Independent Spirits Awards. The movie was an art house hit, and showed nothing but promise for everyone involved. But looking at the call sheet today proves that the promise was somewhat false. Rory Culkin hasn’t had a prominent part in a good movie since Mean Creek. Josh Peck had the biggest success of the bunch, headlining his own show, Drake & Josh, and securing sizeable roles in films like The Wackness, ATM, and Red Dawn. But the real heartbreak here is Scott Mechlowicz, a fiery talent who stole Mean Creek with his raw intensity. Mechlowicz followed Mean Creek with two notable roles, as a wiseass in the teen romp, EuroTrip, and a troubled gymnast in Peaceful Warrior. If you asked me in 2004, I would’ve told you that in 10 years time, Scott Mechlowicz would be as big as Ryan Gosling. Sadly, Hollywood saw things differently.
In 2004, I so admired what writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes and his cast brought to the film. Today, my admiration is still firmly in place, but it’s dissatisfying to realize no one involved in the film received the career they deserved. My mind ventures to thoughts of, “Bummer, dude.” When in reality, I should be thinking, “Yeah, I remember this movie, this is the film that made them all stars.”
By Alex Withrow