I Know What You Did Last Summer

Currently streaming on Amazon, also currently being remade by Amazon, this late 90’s slasher film is an excellent example of its time period. It is a solid story with great production value, and a lame conclusion.

The film is loosely based on a 1973 novel of the same name, and it tells the story of four teens who make a life changing mistake one night. We are introduced to Julie James and Helen Shivers, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with their boyfriends Barry and Ray played by Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze Jr, on a festive Fourth of July.

The quartet have just graduated high school and are celebrating being young and alive. The future is theirs. They are invincible. They drink and party and have sex on a beach. On the drive home, they accidentally hit someone. They believe he’s dead. They are drunk and desperate. They argue about how to proceed. Barry bullies them into dumping the body. Ray agrees, and after a little convincing Helen goes along. Julie is the hold out, but doesn’t stop them. They dump the body in the ocean and go about their lives.

One year later, Julie is still haunted by that night. She can’t shake that horrible feeling that they did something truly evil. She returns home after her first year of college to find the place very much the same, but the people she knew very much changed. All of Helen’s dreams failed. Barry is a barely functioning alcoholic who never left town. Ray is everything he never wanted to be; a local fisherman just like his father. Julie is trying to find her way in this town full of memories, when a note arrives. It simply says, “I know what you did last summer.”

Over the next couple of days, the quartet is forced back together to confront their sins and try to figure out who knows their secret. Once the Fourth of July hits however, all bets are off, and the mysterious person begins killing them one by one with a massive hook.

What works here? The story. It’s a very compelling narrative. These kids made a huge life altering mistake that changed the course of their lives. There are several scenes of them confronting their own issues that are actually really well written and acted. I quite liked a lot of the movies quieter moments.

What else worked? The horror works. There is one great jump scare that happens after a quiet scene in a car. The jump comes out of nowhere and is incredibly effective. There is a prolonged sequence in the middle in which the killer is after Helen and chases her all over town. It’s really well done and builds to a fantastic crescendo.

What else worked? The mystery. It kept me guessing. I can usually figure out who done it, long before it’s revealed, but this one kept me on my toes. I really appreciated that.

What didn’t work every other jump scare didn’t work. Too obvious. Freddie Prinze Jr.’s performance. He’s terrible here. He’s a really good looking block of wood. Finally, the climax is lame. Once the killer is revealed, the movie goes into a crappy climax of lame chase and escape junk. The final confrontation is especially dumb. It reminded me of Wile E. Coyote. It’s such a dumb conclusion to the main conflict in this film. It’s a really disappointing finish to an otherwise solid movie.

I had fun with this movie. It’s a slice of 90’s nostalgia on top of being a solid thriller with a weak finish. It’s my cup of tea. B

One reason I love these Halloween months so much is because they allow me to see how a genre progresses over time. I got to watch the low budget junk of the 80’s with Friday the 13th. I got to watch there high budget junk of today with Halloween Kills. This movie falls in a very interesting time. It is made with more money, and much great care than Friday the 13th, but it’s also made with enough cheese and understanding of what it is than that piece of crap Halloween Kills. This 90’s time was the sweet spot. Studios put actual money into these movies, while understanding that they are fun cheesy slasher movies. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s not a dissertation on the nature of evil. Commit to your story and just have fun with it. I wish more films did that these days.

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