Jeepers Creepers (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★
“You know the part in scary movies when somebody does something really stupid, and everybody hates them for it? This is it.”
Although Trish (Gina Philips) warns her brother Darry (Justin Long) not to climb down the jutting pipe that is sitting a few feet away from the entrance of an abandoned church, he remains convinced he heard a voice down there. The person, or persons, may be in dire need of help. After all, while driving along the countryside highway just minutes earlier, Trish and Darry witnessed a man throwing what appears to be two bodies down the pipe—covered in white sheets with red stains on them—the very same man who terrorized them on the road with his souped up old truck sporting the license plate BEATNGU. Up until this point in the film, creature-feature “Jeepers Creepers,” written and directed by Victor Salva, is wonderful entertainment, expertly balancing tension and laughs as audiences are played like a piano.
However, it is let down somewhat by a soggy middle portion and an uninspired final act. The latter is especially problematic given that the more people there are on screen, the material tends to rely on the usual tropes involving cops, guns, and monsters. They shoot at the thing yet the abomination doesn’t even recoil. Naturally, cops have poor aim. And they gawk when action is required. The third act is an exercise of futility, of effects, and of tired clichés which accomplish nothing other than to sideline Philips and Long’s terrific chemistry as siblings who squabble and tease but their love for one another cannot be denied.
When stripped all the way down, an argument can be made that this is a story of a brother and sister who must face change when they least expect it. It is no accident they are university students on their way home over break. There are a few examples that denote change. There is talk about their mother being unhappy in her marriage. Trish and Darry take the long way home because Trish has just gotten out of a relationship. And soon the duo must graduate and take on the “real world.” It is no coincidence that the villain they face resurfaces every 23 years, to kill and feed. 23 is when young adults usually begin their lives and careers outside of university.
When the film focuses on Trish and Darry’s experiences out in that lonely country road, it works. Even a desperate visit to a diner has a darkly comic tinge to it. Clearly agitated and horrified, the locals simply stare at them rather than offering to help. Even the cops do not believe what Darry claims to have seen down that pipe. This supports the idea of the siblings having to face a challenge together, everyone else is decoration. But then the work begins to unspool.
I liked the look of The Creeper (Jonathan Breck), with its dark and leathery skin, sharp and stained teeth, its intimidating stature. Although it’s quite tall, it moves like a dancer. It makes sense that it is fit considering it is a hunter. Less intriguing is its apparent lack of weakness. It gets shot (pistols, shotgun). It is run over by a vehicle more than three times. It seems invincible, unstoppable. Eventually it lays dying in the middle of the highway but there is no drama because we know all too well it will get up again.
The idea of an insurmountable enemy can work, especially when it is supposed to symbolize or function as metaphor for something else, but it requires a sharp and deeply intelligent writing. However, since the screenplay is only interested in superficial thrills starting with the middle potion, the monster that won’t die feels more like a caricature rather than a truly formidable force. Notice how we tend to learn about it through secondhand tales rather than simply showing us.