Ah…I Know What You Did Last Summer. This 1997 slasher is a guilty pleasure of mine. Why? I just like seeing crazy old white men in slicker outfits kill unlikeable and pretty teenagers. However, take out the guilty pleasure aspect and I Know What You Did Last Summer is just not a good movie. Even worse, it’s kind of boring. Starring a fresh-faced Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr., the film catches up with the four friends after they commit a hit-and-run one year earlier. Following a mysterious and frightening letter, Barry, Julie, Helen, and Ray must fight the man responsible for the note before he murders them off one by one.
The inciting incident does no favors for Julie, Ray, Barry, and Helen. First, the movie insults the audience’s intelligence by not having one of the four check the fisherman’s pulse. You don’t need to be a doctor to do this. Second, instead of being good Samaritans and calling 911, these four decide that it’s a good idea to toss the body into the river. Basically, Julie, Ray, Barry, and Helen committed murder to an innocent man who didn’t go crazy until after he was run over and left for dead. The scripting of this scene is a total mess, and it’s even more disappointing when one of the credited writers is Kevin Williamson, who mocked the slasher tropes in Scream and Scream 2.
Instantly, the four characters are in the unlikeable category so when Benjamin Willis decides to exact his revenge, you’re actually rooting for the serial killer because he was definitely wronged in the situation. As the film plods along, it gets sillier and sillier. Part of the reason that I Know What You Did Last Summer is so tedious is due to the incredibly boring characters presented. Unfortunately, Ryan Phillipe and Sarah Michelle Gellar aren’t playing horny cousins in this film so they’re reduced to the stereotypical jock and prom queen. Barry is nothing more than an asshole and Helen’s purpose is to scream and look pretty.
Julie and Ray don’t fare any better. We barely get to know any of these characters as I Know What You Did Last Summer is more so focused on plot than character development. Granted, this is a horror film so the expectation for a character-driven narrative is slim, but the problem is there aren’t any other layers to these four. Despite the attempted murder a year earlier, Julie’s life seems perfect. She isn’t battling any inner demons and her conflict with the serial killer is all due to her being selfish and stupid.
Ray is simply there to be the white knight that saves the day. I Know What You Did Last Summer is truly missing that moment where we sit down and get to know the characters. For example, arguably the best scene in Jaws was Quint, Hooper, and Brody comparing scars, which was followed by Quint’s Indianapolis speech. That scene is there so the audience can connect with these characters. Don’t get me wrong, what the four leads did to Ben was deplorable, but the writers should’ve made an attempt to give them some personality.
Another issue with the film is that Ben’s mission statement is unclear. The villain has an easy opportunity to kill Barry and Helen early in the film, but he simply decides to toy with them for no apparent reason. Freddy Kreuger likes to toy with his victims; however, he ultimately murders them when given a chance. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers simply get straight to the point. All the tension was sucked out of the air because the message was shoddy at best. The scene where Julie discovers Max’s body behind the trunk filled with crabs; Only for the crime scene to completely disappear once Barry and Helen check it out doesn’t even make sense.
Also, the characters in I Know What You Did Last Summer are kind of stupid. To be clear, this isn’t a shot at the acting talent of anyone in the film. The actors do what they can, but the script just lets them down at nearly every turn. Helen stopping in the alley when she’s seconds away from the giant parade ahead of her was a big eye-roller. Did I mention how this whole situation could’ve been avoided if Julie, Helen, Ray, and Barry just checked Ben’s pulse at the crime scene? The kills are okay. There’s nothing here that stands out in a good, inventive way. All-in-All, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a bad movie. The guilty pleasure that it provides is due to the inept characters and non-sensical plotting. It’s not the WORST slasher movie you’ll ever see, but it’s definitely not close to being the best.