Director: Jim Gillespie
Cast: Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, Freddie Prinze Jr.
Plot: A group of teenagers commit a hit and run during a drunken night and cover it up. However, a year later, their dark secret returns to haunt them…
Teen horrors will always be one of the main cornerstones of the horror genre. For some reason, film viewers happen to love watching a group of thinly-written teenagers slowly get slaughtered off by something mysterious, or at the very least put up with it for a partial glimpse at nudity (none here sadly, Buffy fans!). I Know What You Did Last Summer is probably one of the more iconic teen horror films out there and in many ways, it is the movie that most of these teen horrors draw upon when trying to recreate the tone and style of this sub-genre.
It starts off with a pretty traditional opening for teen horrors: alcohol and sex. It is the last summer before college and a group of friends head to the beach to get drunk and couple up. On the way back, they end up driving over the limit and hit someone in the dark. Panicking and aware that this drunk driving murder will ruin any chance they have of future careers, they all hatch a scheme to dump the body in the sea. Feeling all pretty shitty, they return home and carry on as normal. A year later, they all return from college and we see how their lives have changed since the murder. Most of them try to forget it, but our lead Julie realises that it is crippling their lives, not to mention their friendship has a group is something pretty much non-existent. That’s when she receives a note, claiming ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ kick-starting a desperate need to track down their mysterious stalker, an investigation that begins dragging up some more bodies, including their own…
What makes ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ enjoyable is the fact that the characters aren’t disastrous. Sure, on one hand, they are so stereotyped that it is embarrassing. Julie, the main character, is your standard ‘could-break-down-and-cry-at-any-given-moment’ female and then we have Barry, who is the angry jock. This is the side of the film that other teen movies try and replicate, while ignoring the good side to the characters. They are put into an interesting situation and this allows these clichéd characters to grow into something quite interesting. I like the idea that they all suffer from a different kind of guilt. For example, Ray needs answers, while Helen hides away from everyone, gets a dead-end job and just tries to keep her head down and the past in the past. Even when Barry gets even more unlikeable as a character, he is kept grounded by the fact that he is going through trauma at this murder in their past, so we end up forgiving him, as he spirals out of control. Personally, I felt that we should have joined the characters after the murder more than a year later, as the gap in the story is good, but it would have been interesting to see these teens five years (or three years – end of college) down the line. However, I guess then we would need to come up with a new, snappy title.
It helps that the characters are portrayed by some actors who grew into the hottest things on the block. Jennifer-Love Hewitt is pretty much the ideal actress to play that haunted horror movie lead. She has bug-eyes, pale skin and this innocent vibe, which is surprising for someone who is technically a murderer. Sarah Michelle Gellar is the reason I picked up this film in the first place and probably a good place for Buffy fans to go after completed the series, although it is quite bizarre to see the Vampire Slayer so helpless. Ryan Phillipe is probably given the most interesting character and as a result, probably comes off the most impressive out of the four lead actors. If you are willing to ignore the blatant downsides to a teen horror, you will enjoy the roles and the actors in them.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a horror movie though. It does fall under the category of films that seems to think that any movie where a bunch of people get killed off slowly, leaving the others terrified of the shadows, classifies as a scary movie. Even when the film gets to its scariest, it is never really any more than thrilling. The best scene is a prolonged chase between Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character and the killer. It is surprisingly a very long sequence and the director does very well to keep you guessing. You are on the edge of your seat, totally uncertain if she is going to make it or not. I had no idea how that scene was going to end and that made it a really enjoyable horror movie moment that elevated this thriller beyond its status.
The twist is an OK one. I never really realised it was on the table and I guess it shows a certain level of cleverness from the writers. Or maybe I was so convinced that this was a dumb horror, I did not look for too many signs or fore-shadowing. This film falls down on the fact that there aren’t really enough red herrings. We have a potential suspect for the threats, but then he is killed off pretty sharpish for reasons I am not entirely convinced upon. Then we begin to think that it is one of the group, but that idea is never really portrayed convincingly enough. This lack of options makes this thriller nothing more than mildly interesting, although for a Friday night DVD, the climax is exciting enough to keep you hooked.
Final Verdict: While not really a particular scary horror, this teen flick serves as a thriller. And a decent one at that.