Director: Victor Salva
Cast: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Eileen Brennan
MPAA Rating: (for terror violence/gore, language and brief nudity)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 8/31/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
About ten minutes into Jeepers Creepers, I knew I would have a hard time sympathizing with its main characters. Certain movies have a self-awareness these days that gives them a sort of uninvolved irony. The characters seem to know they’re in a movie, and so they talk about conventions, clichés, and all the dumb and contrived things people do in movies. Here one of the characters tells another, "You know that stupid thing that someone does in a scary movie and everyone hates him for it? Well, this is that stupid thing." And it’s really, really stupid. I or anyone I know (and don’t know, for that matter) would never put themselves in the situation these characters put themselves into. The willing suspension of disbelief is pushed to its limits here. This is closer to the drilling of the suspension of disbelief directly into the brain.
So what is the stupid thing that Darryl (Justin Long) does that everyone hates him for? Well, it takes a little setting up. Darryl and his sister Trish (Gina Philips) are coming home from college for spring break. Traveling down a desolate road, they play a game whose rules are foreign to everyone but them and talk like siblings—at least movie siblings. A large, rundown truck slowly appears behind them and gives them a lot of trouble before finally passing. Farther down the road, they see the truck outside an abandoned church, and the driver is dumping what appears to be bags with corpses into a pipe. As they drive forward, the truck pursues them and eventually runs them off the road before continuing forward.
Now here’s where the main catalyst for the plot appears—the really stupid one. Let’s get a few things straight. When a truck tries to run you off the road, not once but twice, and you’re presented with strong evidence that the driver is involved in foul play, you do not return to the abandoned church just to play detective. That’s just common sense, an asset horror movie characters were not born with. But Darryl is convinced that there may be someone alive and that they would be able to help on their own. Obviously, they would be more help getting to the nearest town and calling the police, but they go back and discover a whole lot of bodies in the basement of the church. Now, they go to town, call the police, and discover that whatever dumped those bodies is after them.
To get fully involved in a movie like this, you need characters you can relate to and a somewhat credible scenario. Jeepers Creepers greatly lacks in both departments. On top of the main characters’ stupidity, the two leads seem to emote two things—normality and complete shock. In any other horror movie, Darryl would be the girl and Trish would be the boy which leads to a few extremely awkward pieces of dialogue. Finally, Darryl and Trish never seem to understand just how serious they should take this situation. That’s the biggest problem with self-awareness. Beyond the contrived setup of the plot, when we finally do find out what the thing chasing Darryl and Trish is, it is almost beyond laughably incomprehensible. There is something very frightening about not knowing exactly what’s lurking in the shadows, but this script bases the creature on filler material that characters gossip about. Is it scary that Michael Myers may be the bogey man or that the masked killer in Friday the 13th is a child who drowned at the camp (or his mother)? No, what’s scary is that we’re not sure what they are.
So without good characters or plot, what’s left in a movie like this. Well, the only purpose of a movie like this is to scare you, and while Jeepers Creepers never actually does, there is a very admirable amount of atmosphere and style built up. We aren’t given multiple angles and cuts, which have become a cornerstone of the genre, but instead long, solid shots. When the truck first appears, we have seen it coming for some time. We usually know where the creature is because we see him observing the characters. Some sequences have a great amount of humor, like one where Trish continually runs over the creature knowing it isn’t dead. Victor Salva wrote and directed Jeepers Creepers, and it’s surprising that the person responsible for such an insipid screenplay could show such craft at the helm.
This is definitely not a good movie, and it has too many major flaws within the context of the genre to be a good horror movie. What it does have going for it greatly helps its problems. Scares or not, the movie does build a lot of tension, and that’s something just short of a miracle considering the material at hand.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
Buy Related Products