Originally submitted to the BBFC in November 2004, it was duly noted by examiners assigned to view and classify the work that its distributors had requested a 15 certificate for the film. This came as no surprise given the content of the film: it focuses on the events of one summer’s afternoon when a group of teenagers lure a fellow pupil - the school bully - to a remote spot with a view to meting out some rough justice of their own. Their plan stalls but tragedy still strikes leaving all involved in a state of shock, panic and bewilderment. Examiners likened the film to works such as Stand By Me, The River’s Edge and Bully.
Predominant classification issues for the film included language, sex references, violence and drug referencing. With some twenty or so uses of strong language (‘f**k’), a minimal 15 certificate was going to be inevitable. The moderate sex referencing on offer went some way to reinforcing the 15 argument with utterances such as 'going to jail and getting raped every night of your cute f***ing lives is nuts…' and 'you ever been pussy hunting?'. In addition, there is gritty discussion of sexuality with reference to 'butt-munching freaks', 'pimps', 'faggots' and 'screwing'.
Elsewhere, there are some infrequent bouts of moderate (and 15 level) violence such as that which opens the film in a scene that immediately introduces us to the volatile and nasty character of the ill-fated bully, George. His accidental death that follows later in the film is unsettling but falls well short of the level of bloody detail that might have examiners reaching for an 18 classification. Examiners also noted some passing references to soft drug use and possible sight of joint-smoking – neither a problem at 15 levels.
There was, however, one potential barrier to the 15 classification. In the scene where an exasperated George rails at his fellow occupants aboard the boat in the river, he fires an aggressive insult at the sensible and kind Millie, calling her a 'stupid fucking JAP c**t' ('JAP' here is short for 'Jewish American Princess'). BBFC Guidelines suggest that at 15, very strong language such as ‘c**t’ 'will be acceptable only where justified by context'. The original team of two examiners clearly felt that the film had a lot to offer mid-teenagers and that an 18 would exclude its most obvious target audience. They argued that the inclusion of such language here helps re-establish for the audience the true character of George. His death that almost immediately follows this pinnacle of vitriol and hate puts both audience and surviving characters in a most challenging position. It could be argued, therefore, that this single use of very strong language was well-placed and far from gratuitous – in other words, contextually justified.
As with nearly all borderline decisions, a second team of three examiners was recommended to view Mean Creek. All three examiners agreed with the sentiments and arguments of the first team, and a 15 was recommended. The film was passed out at 15 by the BBFC in December 2004 carrying the following BBFCinsight ‘Contains strong language and moderate sex references’.
One other issue was noted by examiners – that of the snail stabbing! Whilst this didn’t look like it was faked, snails aren’t actually covered by the current relevant legislation (the Animals Act). Even if they were, the ‘quick kill’ approach used here would probably allow for the scene’s acceptability within the film without the need for cuts.
Mean Creek featured as part of BBFC National Schools Film Week events in both 2005 and 2006.