'Jeepers Creepers' (2001)/Written & Directed by Victor Salva/Grade: B+
source: United Artists
Jeepers Creepers is a smartly quick, to-the-point, intelligent, often tense and disturbing film. It's got characters who aren't insensitive morons, a central threat who is not only unstoppable, but with a genuinely unsettling and creative design and motive. If it has some shortcomings in the immediate, in the long-term it can be forgiven for those by providing a scary good time within 90 minutes.
What's the Premise?
The film follows Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Phillips), a brother and sister on their way home from college to visit their parents. After a nerve-wracking encounter wherein they're run off the road by a menacing trucker, they seem rattled, but get back on the road. When they pass by a house with that same truck parked in front, and notice its inhabitant disposing of what they think may be a corpse, the pair find themselves on the run from this thing, called The Creeper (Jonathan Breck), and find out way more than they bargained for about him.
What Works About It?
What works best about this picture is the efficiency of its storytelling. Writer/director Victor Salva wastes no time introducing us to our main protagonists, giving us context for who they are and their relationship and motives, then introduces its main villain, all within the first ten minutes. From there, it's pretty much nonstop tension, where Salva builds upon the lore and stakes of the situation continuously.
In addition, Darry and Trish are not relentlessly stupid or heartless characters who we're just supposed to care about because they're written as our protagonists. They constantly fall back and forth between bickering and bantering, like a lot of siblings do. When it comes down to it, though, they accept a lot of influence from each other, look out for each other, and work well together to solve a problem. This becomes evermore vital as they contend with The Creeper, and makes the experience more frightening, since we actually care about who we're following.
Justin Long and Gina Phillips' performances add to the authenticity of Darry and Trish's relationship. From the start, when we're dropped in media res of their conversation, it really feels like they've got this loving and long-standing relationship as siblings. That, combined with the writing, is what works the most in making this film about as intense as it strives to be.
As an adversary, The Creepers works because A) what he does with his victims turns out to be more uniquely disgusting and twisted than you could imagine, B) his design and abilities are wickedly cool, and C) much like Michael Myers in Halloween, he functions mainly as an embodiment of evil. I won't reveal what exactly this thing has in store for his prey, but it's a real shocking gut-turner once it's revealed. On top of that, his face looks as if it's both horrifically scarred, as well as a strange form of plastic surgery made of an unknown substance. He also catches up with Darry and Trish no matter where they are, which we eventually find is because he can fly. It's chilling because it shows how The Creeper can't be outrun, and by extension, how evil itself can't be outrun.
From a thematic standpoint, this movie is quite similar to Halloween. Both are, at their core, examinations of evil and how, no matter what, no matter how, no matter where, it always gets what it wants. That one person survives or avoids its wrongdoings just means someone else doesn't get so lucky, and Salva reflects that unremittingly in the progression of his story.
What Doesn't Work?
Where the movie falters are a few rather inexplicable story elements, as well as some dumb choices made by the supporting cast. On one occasion, an old woman named Jezelle Gay Hartman (Patricia Belcher) calls Derry and Trish at a diner, filling them in on information about The Creeper and how he works. Who is this person? How does she know all of this? The movie tries to be clever in keeping her background and knowledge of our main antagonist murky, but it feels more like a clumsy way of getting across exposition the audience needs to know, whilst still needing to answer the aforementioned questions.
As for the stupid decisions, Trish and Darry meet an old cat lady (Eileen Brennan) at one point, who has a shotgun that could defend all three characters from the oncoming Creeper. However, when said Creeper arrives, this lady inexplicably tells our heroes to run, leaving her alone to face this enemy. Unsurprisingly, she ends up being slain quickly thereafter, when all three people should've banded together to take down The Creeper more easily.
Later, at the diner, a pair of cops questioning Darry and Trish about what happened to them, they predictably don't believe anything the characters say, until a waitress informs them some weirdo just ran by and raided Darry's car. In the climactic showdown, a swarm of cops show up armed, they just stand there frozen and don't shoot The Creeper. Yes, he's got Darry in his clutches, but he doesn't have a weapon on him. He could be shot down and the movie would be over.
Ultimately, Jeepers Creepers is a fairly flawed, but still unsettling and well-acted, mostly well-written picture. It's got an endlessly relevant theme at its core, gets you into the story and gets you out. As far as films about paranormal creatures hunting down hapless everyday people, it isn't up there with Halloween, or the more recent It Follows (2015), but it provides a plenty entertaining diversion for an hour and a half.