Mean Creek

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Mean Creek
Mean Creek movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jacob Aaron Estes
Produced by Rick Rosenthal
Susan Johnson
Hagai Shaham
Written by Jacob Aaron Estes
Starring Rory Culkin
Ryan Kelley
Scott Mechlowicz
Trevor Morgan
Josh Peck
Carly Schroeder
Music by tomandandy
Cinematography Sharone Meir
Edited by Madeleine Gavin
Distributed by Paramount Classics
Release date
  • January 15, 2004 (2004-01-15) (Sundance)
  • August 20, 2004 (2004-08-20) (United States; limited)
Running time
90 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $500,000
Box office $802,948[2]

Mean Creek is a 2004 American coming-of-age psychological drama film written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes and starring Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder. It was produced by Susan Johnson, Rick Rosenthal, and Hagai Shaham.[3]

The film is about a group of teenagers and young adults who devise a plan to humiliate an overweight, troubled bully on a boating trip. When their plan goes too far, they have to deal with the unexpected consequences of their actions. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 15, 2004, and was later screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2004. It was then given a limited release in major US cities on August 20, 2004, mostly playing at art house theaters.


Small and quiet Sam admits to his older brother, Rocky, that the school bully, George, has hurt him because he moved George's video camera while George was filming himself shooting baskets. An angered Rocky tells his friends, reserved Clyde and troubled Marty, and they devise a plan for revenge. Part of the prank entails taking George on a boating trip to celebrate Sam's fictional birthday. Then, they will get him to strip in a game of truth or dare, then make him run home naked.

Sam invites his new girlfriend, Millie, along, and all six of them are driven to the river by Marty. During the ride, George reveals a different side by being genuinely pleased to be invited; the group also learns he is dyslexic. However, Sam does not tell Millie the real plan until they arrive near the river. Millie refuses to continue until Sam promises he will call the plan off, which Sam agrees to do. Sam tells his brother he wants to stop, and Rocky then tells Clyde and Marty. Although Clyde has no problem with not going through, Marty is very reluctant to not do so. Throughout the trip, George clumsily attempts to fit in with the group. Despite this, George also gets confrontational when questioned about his motives (or lack thereof) when attacking someone. The group soon realizes although George is annoying and extremely insecure, he is very lonely and just wants to be accepted and liked.

On the boat, Marty deviates from the others' plan and initiates a game of truth or dare, though the rest decide to go along with the game. After George shoots Rocky with a water gun in good fun, George makes a funny quip about Marty's father, not remembering that it is a sore subject as Marty's father killed himself years ago. This sets off Marty, who dares George to strip naked and jump in the water. When George does not comply, Marty exposes the whole plan and starts to ridicule George. Angered and humiliated, George launches into a vulgar tirade against everyone else on the boat, ending by crudely mocking Marty's dead father. Marty snaps and Rocky, in an attempt to stop the fight, accidentally pushes George off the boat. Unable to swim, George struggles to remain afloat in the water. As the others regard the scene in horror, George accidentally hits his head with his video camera and does not come to the surface. Rocky dives into the water but is unable to find George. Minutes later, George appears face down in the shallow water close to the shore. Rocky exhorts the others to help him bring George to shore, where Millie gives him CPR. The effort is in vain as George is dead.

The group is traumatized and in fear of being charged with murder. They dig a hole and bury George. Clyde's plan is to explain that it was an accident, but Marty threatens them, reminding them that George's camera (now lost in the water) has recorded Marty's taped confession of the original plan and the authorities will find out if the camera is discovered. Marty then gains the complicity of both Clyde and the rest of the group. As they had already tricked George into not telling his mother where he was going, she would not know of their involvement. At the end of the day, they all gather at Sam and Rocky's house. Sam, Rocky, Clyde, and Millie have had a change of heart and are willing to accept the consequences as opposed to having the guilt of George's death hanging over their heads. Marty refuses to turn himself in and feels betrayed. He storms out and convinces his brother to give him his gun and car. The brother again agrees to the favor, albeit reluctantly. Marty robs a gas station with the gun and drives off, becoming a fugitive. Meanwhile, the others go to George's house and confess to his mother with genuine remorse on their faces.

Sam is later seen in an interrogation room, telling the story to the police, who later find and view the tape from George's video camera. In a final scene, audio of George explaining his dream of becoming a filmmaker and documenting his life in hopes those who see it will finally understand him plays in the background. The police force, along with Sam, Rocky, and their father, and George's mother, find the location of the corpse while Sam watches the sheriff exhume George's body, as George's mother cries with devastation, his face full of regret and great pain for what he, his older brother, and friends have done.



Mean Creek was originally conceived by director Jacob Aaron Estes around 1996 and 1997.[4] At the time, Estes felt that there were very few films about kids dealing with a tragedy, a genre he had always admired both as a kid and as an adult student of film.[4] The film was independently financed with a budget of $500,000, although about $350,000 of it was spent off screen or donated.[4] It was shot mostly in Clackamas County, Oregon, including the cities of Boring, Sandy, and Estacada, though footage on the river was filmed on the Lewis River in southwest Washington.[5]


Box office[edit]

Mean Creek received a limited release in North America in four theaters and grossed $29,170 with an average of $7,292 per theater. The film earned $603,951 domestically and $198,997 internationally for a total of $802,948. Based on a $500,000 budget, the film can be considered a modest box office success.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a "Certified Fresh" rating of 89%, based on 124 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The consensus states "Mean Creek is an uncomfortably riveting glimpse into the casual cruelty of youth."[6] On Metacritic, the film also has a score of 74 out of 100, based on 31 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Roger Ebert praised the acting and concept of teenagers making conscious moral decisions and wrote "Mean Creek joins a small group of films including River's Edge and Bully which deal accurately and painfully with the consequences of peer-driven behavior. Kids who would not possibly act by themselves form groups that cannot stop themselves. This movie would be an invaluable tool for moral education in schools, for discussions of situational ethics and refusing to go along with the crowd."[8]

Award Category Subject Result
Deauville American Film Festival Grand Special Prize Jacob Aaron Estes Nominated
Flanders International Film Festival Ghent Grand Prix Nominated
Humanitas Prize Sundance Film Category Won
Independent Spirit Awards John Cassavetes Award Susan Johnson, Rick Rosenthal, and Hagai Shaham Won
Special Distinction Award Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder Won
Stockholm International Film Festival Best Directorial Debut Jacob Aaron Estes Won
Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Rory Culkin Nominated
Best Leading Young Actress in a Feature Film Carly Schroeder Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "MEAN CREEK (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 3, 2004. Retrieved November 8, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Mean Creek (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 16, 2004. Retrieved November 8, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Mean Creek". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved July 10, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c "The making of Mean Creek". Get Hampshire. 2005-04-22. Archived from the original on 2016-04-15. Retrieved 2016-04-19. 
  5. ^ "Mean Creek filming locations". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-02-10. 
  6. ^ "Mean Creek (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 8, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Mean Creek Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 8, 2015. 
  8. ^

External links[edit]