ndsu spectrum: movie review
Little-known actors save ‘Jeepers Creepers’
By JOHN HANSEN
Sept. 7, 2001
“Jeepers Creepers” has one of the best opening 10 minutes you’ll ever see. A brother and sister are driving home for spring break on a highway in the middle of nowhere. A rusty old van with vanity plates that read “BEATINGU” nearly runs them off the road. A few miles later, the kids see the van parked next to a large drain pipe. A shrouded figure is dumping what looks like a body into the pipe. The figure watches them drive by.
After an opening like this, pretty much anyone could sit down at a keyboard and come up with a series of events to keep audiences engaged. And the rest of “Jeepers Creepers” is indeed interesting, but not necessarily because of Victor Salva’s writing. Rather, it’s due to Salva’s direction and some smart casting.
The appeal of the two leads is much bigger than their names. Brother Darry is played by Justin Long, best known as the nervous teen (and most interesting character by far) on TV’s “Ed.” Sister Trish is played by Gina Philips, who makes an effortless transition from teacher on “Boston Public” to college kid here. Long and Philips have great chemistry and actually look like brother and sister; their likeability carries this movie through the rough patches.
With “Jeepers Creepers,” Salva is clearly trying to make B-horror movies cool again, and he’s moderately successful. But as a writer, he can’t resist doing the obvious at every turn. Granted, the film shuns the ironic wisecracks, but it still uses as many genre conventions as “Scream 3” or “Urban Legends: Final Cut,” most notably the main characters’ flip-flopping between being heroic and being scared beyond words.
The concept of being harassed on a road by a psycho, then stopping for gas in Hicksville, USA where your pleas for help are met with dimwit stares worked well in Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” (1971) and even better in Jonathan Mostow’s “Breakdown” (1997), but here the concept seems obligatory.
While the villainous Creeper (Jonathan Breck) certainly lives up to its name, the mythology behind the creature is a muddled mess. Is it a mutant or an animal? Is it intelligent or instinctual? And how did it come to exist in the first place?
By the way, how the heck does a giant fish monster with wings go about purchasing vanity license plates? This guy standing in line at the DMV is the side story I wanted to see.
Clearly, Salva’s strength is directing. His use of symbolism is obsessive (he uses crows more frequently than John Woo uses white doves), but he displays a knack for sight and sound. A car quietly moving along the road, headlights barely visible in the background… Darry standing at the bottom of a drain pipe in a pool of light as his eyes adjust to the bodies laying around him… Good stuff.
Most of the time, “Jeepers Creepers” is dark, moody and scary. But it’s often silly thanks to the confusing Creeper mythology. It brings back the spirit of those gritty B-horror films; too bad it couldn’t jettison the cliches.
Title: “Jeepers Creepers”
Starring: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher
Written and directed by: Victor Salva