Mean Creek [2004]

Genre: Crime, Drama
Deliverance goes to high school in this grim, stripped-down fable of a prank gone bad. Friends decide to teach a lesson to a teenage bully by inviting him on a canoeing trip where they will humiliate him once and for all. The prank turns seriously sour, and the kids must deal with the consequences. Writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes takes a somber look at these lives, although his low-key approach makes the central tragedy seem melodramatic when it happens. The film isn't quite new enough to be truly revelatory, but Estes neatly avoids a River's Edge rehash by allowing his characters more than dead-eyed anomie. The actors hit their notes with precision, especially Rory Culkin (another of the Culkin family, with Macaulay and Kieran), Ryan Kelley, and Scott Mechlowicz. This is the kind of movie that may be slightly familiar to older audiences, but could easily be a home-video cult item with younger viewers. --Robert Horton

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