Jeepers Creepers 2

gen-x-review-jeepers-creepers-2I’m often asked in my world travels how one analyzes a film. Does one choose to deconstruct or psychoanalyze? How does one know whether to use Lacan, Derrida, or Foucault?

As a public service announcement I decided to explain my thought process while writing the review of the new film Jeepers Creepers 2.

After sitting through a film like Jeepers Creepers 2 the first impulse most people will have is to watch reruns of Hollywood Squares, say, to cleanse your pallet of the taste of the film. After all, you have just wasted almost two hours in the movie theatre, and the last thing you will want is to dive into a rehash of the mess.


This is to be avoided. The suggested method of analysis is to torture your significant other on the way home from the theatre with ridiculous details about the film, using words like phallocentric as much as possible. If your SO isn’t present, or even more likely you have no one to blubber to, you should mutter keen observations to yourself. The goal is to keep the horror fresh in your mind.

Prepare your writing space at home, turn on some light classical music, and dig into the review by typing over your notes, where you have stored your thoughtful observations while watching the film. There you will find all sorts of helpful statements such as: “pretty bad acting” and “the characters are so dull.”

Do not yet panic. Leaf through the spiral bound pad until you come to your first witty remark, which might talk about the plot. Jeepers Creepers 2, for example, is about a demon that has somehow been allowed to eat humans every 23rd spring for 23 days.

And that’s it. We’ll assume this character’s background was fleshed out in Jeepers Creepers, which I unfortunately didn’t see. In most horror film franchises the only character that returns in the sequel is the monster himself or, in rare occasions, the survivor from the original film, who promptly gets skinned, so we should be able to work around this handicap.

The film opens in a cornfield somewhere in Middle America. (I see in my notes that I thought a clever opening line might substitute certain words in the “The Catcher in the Rye” to say “The Cutter in the Corn.”) A young farm kid is doing his chores when he notices that one of the scarecrows is… ALIVE!

So he’s killed.

The plot congeals when we’re introduced to a high school varsity football team returning from losing the championship game. The school bus they’re riding in suddenly has a flat tire and they’re stuck on an empty expanse of road. When the coaches investigate the problem they find a ninja throwing star-like weapon lodged into the tire.

As the adults set flairs and try the radio, the kids wander off. They spontaneously remove their shirts and the camera seems to spend an inordinate amount of time roaming over their chests. A group lines up in order to urinate together and others sun tan on the roof of the bus. Although there are several busty cheerleaders, the film is primarily directed at these young men.

How odd. You must carefully consider if it’s worth pointing out the homoerotic gaze here, knowing in secret that half your audience will begin to question your own sexuality if you even use the word homosexual in a sentence.

The adults are picked off fairly quickly as dusk falls, leaving the football team to decide on what course of action they should take. After spending so much time displaying male bodies and virility, the film them begins ripping the kids to pieces. The creature seems to have picked out certain people for certain parts, and absorbs them into itself when he eats them.

(It’s important to start laying it on here…)'

The bus becomes a pressure cooker, bringing latent homophobic and racist ideologies out in the open. What becomes increasingly apparent is that there are no leaders in this mob of good-looking, healthy Americans. Without adult supervision they revert to childish behavior, attack one another, or cower in stupid fear.

A good reviewer will notice how this creature appears elemental, without any real motivation, a force of nature. In an odd way the movie resembles a disaster film. Confined to the bus, the team falls apart, showing that their bonds were wholly superficial. They may play together, but they don’t have the tools necessary to work as an organization. This crew fails both as a collection of individuals and a team.

They are mere raw material. The creature wants to eat and use their parts just as their coaches have controlled their individual actions in the service of the game, but there is no leader among them. There is a dragon out there, beyond the school bus, and the hero needs to rise out of the mob and slay it. We have already seen their brute strength and fledgling masculine power, but they lack the courage to save themselves.

When a leader does appear it is a counterfeit leader, scapegoating members of the team and dividing the team when it needs to be unified.

The film highlights an anxiety over the meaning of the mob. When is a team merely a machine, controlled by demonic powers, and when does it help produce our culture’s heroes? The monster’s real mission is to either assimilate the boys, force them to act in concert or reveal a champion from their ranks. In their present form they serve no one less than themselves.

It’s always a good rule to end a review with a line that extends your review slightly beyond your reach, something to suggest that you’d really like to go on a few more pages about this interesting film. This is, after all, important stuff here, and if you can prove that Jeepers Creepers 2 is of great consequence, well, maybe you can convince yourself that the 103 minutes wasn’t an entire waste.

I would suggest: The creature outside is not nearly as horrifying as the terror inside.


Whale Riders

gen-x-review-whale-ridersThe world withers without its myths and myths die without people who believe in the miracles.

Although the film Whale Riders takes place in a small New Zealand coastal village, its story runs through our own as well. In a society where the center cannot hold and history appears to be only a string of errors, people will follow their own whims rather than serving the community’s needs. A miracle is not merely a single event that crystallizes a community, but the very fact that people can share and bond in a world that often feels empty, disenchanted or debased.

Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the village’s chief and religious leader, has been reading portents for years, trying to understand why his community is sick. When his son’s wife dies during childbirth, taking her newborn son with her yet leaving a twin daughter, he believes the prophecy has failed: The new chief has died before he’s even born, a disastrous omen. The physical manifestation of this fall is his granddaughter, Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who has somehow survived while her brother and mother have died.

The village is sick and without an heir apparent Koro despairs that things will get worse. And he’s right: This world is abandoned, its families dispersed, its bounty wasted. The ocean doesn’t provide for the islanders anymore. Instead they have turned away from their past in live in a collective amnesia, forging new identities through predicable forms of mass media like rock music, Rasta and rap culture and other postmodern consumerables.

But the real problem for Koro is that men are being siphoned away from the community. Fathers leave their children, preferring to remain in a state of prolonged adolescence; would-be chiefs turn their backs on their legacies; and nothing holds for long in a world structured primarily around individuals, instead of villages. He feels the weight of the entire community as its surrogate father figure, but these demands makes him stern and inflexible.

The myths have the power to focus the many into the one, but they seem too fragile and distant in this world. How pertinent is an origin to a people who appear to have no destination, who simply live for the moment, engaged in hedonistic pleasure? The legends feel remote to the villagers, as though they have no relevance to their day-to-day lives.

Koro decides to open a school to teach the old ways, but the irony is that he himself is a product of modern times. He has internalized the parochial system and can only envision the old stories in masculine ways. His very method of teaching is macho and the school is sort of a cross between boot camp and a Buddhist monastery: A seminary for WWF wrestlers.

He is so fixated on a male solution to the problems facing the village that he does not notice the miracle happening under his own nose.

Paikea matures under Koko’s watchful eyes, but the chief is unable to read the myths correctly and he misinterprets her as a curse when she’s really a miracle. When she tries to enroll in the school she is berated and sent packing. After all, the central legend tells about a mythical figure leading the villagers to New Zealand on the back of a whale.

The village totem certainly seems to endorse Koko’s view that the chief needs to be a male. It’s a male riding on the back of a big, black beast, straddling it in a way to suggest, erm, that he has a big… ah, well, that the whale is actually his… phallus.

Paikea certainly can’t boast about her phallic power, and Koko’s training has a decidedly misogynist bend, so the girl is banished from the school. But she studies in secret, learning the ancient martial art from her uncle and memorizing the traditional chants while hiding.

However, deeper, more mysterious forces are moving inside of the girl. She seems to possess knowledge beyond her years but when she disarms one of Koko’s other students in self-defense her grandfather becomes enraged, viewing the act as a sacrilege. It takes a real miracle, in the form of an absolute test with very real casualties, to test Koko’s faith in his reading of the ancient, religious scriptures.

Whale Rider is a special film, not least because of Castle-Hughes’ moving performance. This is a complex character with deep, undiscovered reserves and a queer way of looking at the world. Castle-Hughes is poignant without being over-sentimental, vulnerable without hiding behind her weakness, and powerful without resting her energies on the purely visible.

This is a film that invites you to swim, to surf in its hidden currents and odd undertows. Mystery is down there, buried beneath the ocean, waiting to be redeemed, and if the villagers can believe, maybe we can too. Sometimes you save the world by saving yourself.

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