I Love Hewitt but Fishy Horror Fails to Hook Me
In 1996 "Scream" was released, written by Kevin Williamson and heralded as horror for a new generation of teenagers, the following year we got "I Know What You Did Last Summer" also written by Kevin Williamson and again delivered horror for a teenage crowd. The trouble is that whilst yes "I Know What You Did Last Summer" fits the bill as a teenage horror, with some scares and a cast of young, fresh faces including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. it just doesn't manage to draw you into a story that gets you on the edge of your seat.
Having graduated from high school four friends, Julie, Helen, Ray, and Barry, head off to the beach to celebrate. But on the way home they are involved in an accident when they knock over a man walking in the road. Believing they killed him they decide to throw him into the sea rather than calling the police and promise each other that no one will ever find out. One year later and having returned home from college Julie receives a chilling letter claiming "I know what you did last summer". Along with her other friends they start to panic especially as there seems to be someone wanting them dead.
As with any teen horror "I Know What You Did Last Summer" understandably revolves around a group of teens who end up being stalked, attacked and killer by some shady figure. And as is normal with many horrors this bunch of young teen's actions are questionable and lack common sense but hey it's a horror and doing the irrational instead of the rational is what you expect. But the thing is the actual storyline to "I Know What You Did Last Summer" starts well and then spirals into an increasing series of unbelievable contrivances, causing the final outcome, the revelation of who the slicker wearing murderer is, to be pointless. You don't expect things to be believable but the big reveal is so contrived it frankly makes all the build up, all the investigation from the panicking teenagers pretty much pointless.
To give it credit where it's due up until the final reveal "I Know What You Did Last Summer" works the horror formula quite well. It delivers scenes where you start to wonder if one of these young teens is in fact the killer, or whether it's one of their acquaintances such as Max who works at the docks or Helen's sister Elsa as it delivers reasoning to why they could be. Even the acts of horror, the death by hook which the killer uses delivers the right amount of fright yet restraining itself from being just another crazed killer going loco in search of blood. Oh if only they managed to work a better reveal into things I would have been happier.
As for the stars and characters well there is little to scream about because they are a bunch of horror stereotypes which you can second guess as to who may die and who may not. As such the performances from Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. are entertaining but adequate in fitting their stereotypes. Not a single one delivers a performance which really stands out or remains memorable in the same way that Jamie Lee Curtis is memorable for her "Halloween".
Aside from the main stars probably the only other noticeable star is Johnny Galecki as Max, although it's a small role and not playing a geek which we have come to associate him with since being in the excellent "Big Bang Theory".
The thing is that whilst the storyline ends up being disappointing there are a few well worked frights lurking in "I Know What You Did Last Summer". There is a subtle blend of the highly visual as the killer and his hook goes to work and also the frights from the unexpected. When Julie and Helen are sitting in their car in a wooded lane you know something is going to suddenly appear at a side window, the scene sets it up, but then when it does it still makes you jump. It's this side of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" which makes it work reasonably well as a horror.
What this all boils down to is that "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is very much your generic teen horror from the late 90s. The storyline starts well but ends up being too contrived to work, yet the blend of horror and adequate performances from its young stars bring it all together to be an entertaining but ultimately average crowd pleasing horror. It can't all be bad because it did end up spawning the sequel "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer".