I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

imagesAfter watching the incredibly over the top performances in “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” I’m suddenly not so shocked that subsequent this film, the four stars of this slasher never actually amounted to much cinematically. Not to be cruel or anything, but where as most slashers suffer from an abundance of bad acting, this film attempts to sap melodramatic performances from its four stars. That means a lot of shouting, and screaming, and attempted self-aware jabs at the horror genre. Ryan Phillippe in particular sounds like he’s auditioning for drama class as the testosterone laced Barry who runs around screeching at every character for the first fifteen minutes of the film. The incredibly loose almost pointless adaptation of the Lois Duncan novel “I Know What You Did Last Summer” stars a cadre of nineties stars trying their best to mine the gold left behind by Kevin Williamson’s “Scream.”

For the most part, the whodunit murder mystery is a bust as the film sets up numerous red herrings and fake outs only for it to deliver a suspect we’re never actually introduced to until the final twenty minutes (Aha! It was… that guy all along! Who is that guy?!), while the whole taunting and torture of guilting the foursome is ultimately inane when the person reminding them of their deed one summer kills them brutally. And I never quite understood why the motivated person in question would off supporting characters with no knowledge of the crime. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” has oodles of potential to be an atmospheric and brutally tense murder mystery focusing on the unraveling of the guilt and the endless tension between the foursome.

The story would have been wise to make the slasher a secondary element focusing on the characters and their paths to hell, but director Gillespie seems to have been hired to deliver another slasher film from the assembly line and he’s up to the task in spades. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” involves four vapid small town teens (well in to their twenties) whom, after a drunken night of partying, run over someone on the road. Afraid of the consequences, the foursome hide the body of the victim and agree never to speak of the crime again. Years later, the curvaceous Julie arrives home from college to learn someone knows what they’ve done. And the paranoia begins. Well, the plays on paranoia and guilt are utterly secondary to the plot as the masked hook man stalking the foursome is the main focus. The killer spends most of the time taunting the group and insists on murdering anyone around them for reasons never quite explained. The performances from the cast are very undemanding thus we never quite feel sympathy for the characters.

Hewitt is too gorgeous to be bought as a virginal final girl, while Sarah Michelle Gellar has a tough time selling her role as a vapid and shallow pageant queen. And in a line of utterly forgettable roles, Freddie Prinze Jr. is about as bland and underwhelming as they come. The mere fact he garnered more than two roles after this film is mind-blowing. Oddly enough the only real stand out is from Anne Heche who has a small supporting role as a backwoods widow who may or may not know the origin of the killer or killers. For the most part Gillespie’s direction is often gritty and he takes advantage of the scenic beach town the film is set in with some wonderful establishing shots and locales. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is a massive miss on the slasher sub-genre, anxious to be taken as a murder mystery and a slasher film and never quite managing to be competent in either corners of the film world. I never quite cared about these characters, and I never really wanted to know who the killer was.

When they’re finally revealed, it’s a bust and the film is relatively resolved as one of the many late nineties slasher films that never quite mustered up enthusiasm or creativity to remain relevant many years later. It’s a pretty hollow horror film. Jim Gillespie’s horror entry has a chance to be a deep and fascinating look at the horrors of guilt and the psyche, but instead opts for another conventional slasher film. Gillespie is there to give fans a poor man’s “Scream” and he pulls it off. It’s not the worst of its sub-genre, but after the painful covers of classic rock songs littered along this painfully forgettable and tame “Scream” wannabe’s soundtrack were done festering in my ears, I immediately moved on to my next movie.