Monsters! Jeepers Creepers
WHAT DOES THE PROTAGONIST WANT? We’ll get to that.
WHO IS THE MONSTER? Some weird kind of demon-creature who eats body parts.
WHAT IS THE WARNING? Let’s table that discussion for now.
Jeepers Creepers does a number of things right — it’s well shot, very well paced, well edited, reasonably well acted. It’s a thoroughly pleasant movie-watching experience — it thrills, it scares, it teases out loads of spine-tingling suspense, it contains more-or-less believable characters who are enjoyable to watch. All of which, when you’re dealing with low-budget horror, is a big plus. What it does not do is add up, which is a shame, because it’s got a lot going for it.
It starts out as a Hills Have Eyes/Last House on the Left/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Wrong Turn-style horror movie — a brother/sister duo, on their way home from college for the summer, run into a Big Creepy Guy On a Lonely Stretch of Road. And horror ensues. The big twist is that the Big Creepy Guy turns out not to be Leatherface or Freddy Kruger, but some kind of weird, magical demon-creature who eats body parts for some reason that remains ill-defined.
The three acts are each nicely divided into two parts, for a total of six well-paced, clearly-limned "chapters." Act I introduces our protagonists, Darry and Trish, and brings them to their first confrontation with BCG, who is introduced in a Duel-style road-rage sequence. (Which reminds me, Duel qualifies as a monster movie — it’s a shame they didn’t think to call it Monster Truck.) The second half of Act I involves Darry and Trish foregoing fleeing from danger and turning back to investigate BCG’s creepy lair.
Act II gets Darry and Trish back on the road, where they deal with suspicious locals in a diner and are contacted by a mysterious stranger who knows more about their journey than they do. The police are contacted but prove to be, shall we say, ineffective against this particular threat. The second half of Act II involves an extended confrontation at a rural house, and ends with Darry and Trish seemingly besting the BCG forever (a nice inversion of the "end of Act II low-point" cliche).
Act III puts Darry and Trish in a much more receptive, nice, "real" police station, much closer to "civilization," where their mysterious stranger catches up to them and reveals herself to be a psychic who has seen all this coming and unloads a pile of exposition. The second half of Act III is an extended confrontation between the BCG and the local police, and ends with Trish offering herself to BCG in Darry’s place, an offer BCG refuses.
All this is perfectly entertaining, and almost none of it bears close inspection. BCG rams into our brother-sister duo because why? He then stops pursuing them when they are onto his shenanigans because why? Darry finds, in BCG’s lair, hundreds of dead bodies, stuck to the ceiling, sewn together and preserved, which BCG does because why? The BCG’s lair is in the basement of a church, a fact given great import and then dropped, because why? The BCG singles out specific people for their body parts and kills indiscriminantly because why?
Jeepers Creepers does an excellent job of developing its central mystery, but then refuses to supply the satisfaction of solving it. It looks to me as though it was conceived of as a series of artfully-rendered suspense/horror scenes, and then stitched together, crudely and haphazardly (just like the dead bodies in BCG’s lair), after the set-pieces were all laid out. Kids on a lonely highway get chased by a BCG, cool! And then they stop to investigate his lair, cool! And his lair is in some super-creepy place, like the basement of an old church, and he deposits his victims there and does weird experiments with them, cool! And the BCG can reassemble himself if you try to kill him, cool! And then, watch out, it turns out BCG isn’t Leatherface, he’s some kind of weird demon-creature, cool! And so forth, without any forethought as to where this is all going, with the helpful-animal Psychic Lady as a late-in-the-movie glue to hold it all together.
What does the BCG want? It’s never clear. This collecting-and-eating of body parts seems to be a simple survival mechanism, but there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond that. That’s enough I guess (Alien hinges on the horror of another creature’s natural bodily functions), but it makes for an unsatisfying monster and worse, it has little connection to the protagonists’ journey, which is barely there to begin with.
Darry and Trish are fun to watch, even if they do a bunch of things that make no sense. We could say that their motivation is "to seek justice" and that their desire runs counter to a creature who has no understanding of the term (fully half the movie involves the BCG’s attacks on police officers), but the BCG’s motivation is biological, not legal. A more resonant desire for our protagonists is "to see," ie they want "to see" the BCG’s lair, even though they know it’s a bad idea, which is why it becomes ironic that the BCG is chasing them so that he, too, may be able "to see" (meaning, he wants to swipe Darry’s eyes), and the Psychic Lady ties in with that theme with her ability "to see" in ways neither Darry nor BCG can, and I suppose one could make a case for justice being "blind," but what is the warning? "Don’t go seeking justice?" "Turn a blind eye to wrongdoing?" — It doesn’t hang together. It is, ironically, a collection of "movie moments" in search of a spine.
(As toysdream points out in the comments, the desire "to see" is spelled out pretty directly in the movie’s title. But spelling out a theme and developing it in the course of a compelling, coherent narrative is a different thing. Jeepers Creepers is plenty compelling, but coherent it is not.)