Critics: 35% Audience: 40% IMDb: 5.7
I Know What You Did Last Summer starts with the festivities of the Fourth of July, with four high school seniors ready to embark on the next stage of their lives. Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr), and Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillippe) stroll off to the beach for some ghost stories and shenanigans, getting drunk in the process as well. As they decide to head back home, some questionable decisions in the car inevitably lead them to knock some poor soul down. Realizing that this one action could cost them their entire futures, the group reluctantly agrees to dump the man’s body in a nearby lake even after realizing that he’s not fully dead. Having technically murdered someone at that point, the four decide not to speak of the night ever again and go their separate ways.
Fast forward a year and Julie, our central character, comes back home from college for the summer, visibly shaken and still disturbed by what she did last summer. Given how she originally advocated going to the cops, her mental anguish is understandable. But the burden doesn’t lighten in a long shot with her receiving a note upon her arrival back home, simply stating “I know what you did last summer.” Forced to reconnect with her three other friends, Julie must figure out who this mystery person sending letters is, all the while this person keeps encroaching on their lives in more intrusive ways, both psychologically and physically.
What You Did plays out like a stock B-movie horror film with all the usual tropes and characters. Following a formula doesn’t automatically make it a horrible movie, but it takes the film out of being exceptional in any given avenue. The movie then gets stuck trying to be good at being mediocre. And it does this in a couple of areas.
Most horror films capitalize on misdirection to advance the plot and maintain that sense of killer suspense through to the end. In What You Did, the same strategy applies to some characters’ thinking leading them down rabbit holes. At several points in the film, the audience can easily assume the mystery tormenter to be one person or the other and this is a good thing in many regards. Keeping the guessing game going until the finale is a must. The issue with the misdirection in What You Did is that characters mostly fill in pieces of the puzzle with that standard cop out of a device, newspaper articles. It’s a rather stale mechanism of solving a mystery since it hands out information on a silver platter, usually without the screenwriters planting any kind of seed beforehand.
But the second area of misdirection the film did better on is the mystery tormenter. Early on, it was difficult to figure out his/her end game. Is this person out for blood? Or is this person just playing with our leads, satisfied just toying with them emotionally? Keeping the mystery figure’s objectives shrouded until past the mid-way point allows the audience to contemplate multiple endings for each character. While misdirection in horror films mostly builds suspense, this tactic allows the audience to sense shock and surprise when the time comes. After a certain point, though, the level of predictability will be quite obvious, and well, predictable, but that first half of the film, when all the groundwork is being laid, will keep you in the dark.
The follow through by the actors is on point until the end. Hewitt plays the part of the sweet, innocent and naïve girl thrust into a dangerous scenario very well, but it’s Sarah Michelle Gellar who earns the title of Scream Queen. Her arc in the story is right out of the Horror Movie Hall of Fame and is quite thrilling to watch. She proves to be of equal importance in the story at some stages and even manages to outshine Hewitt on occasion, with her natural charisma and screen presence. The duality of personalities, contrasted between Gellar’s Helen and Hewitt’s Julie creates an interesting dynamic where it isn’t difficult to see people root for one person’s survival over the other’s.
Given the textbook execution of I Know What You Did Last Summer, it’s easy to see how both audiences and critics were quick to shrug it off as a flop. But the release of a sequel only a year later is indicative of its relative merits and success, and its triumph in being good at being mediocre.
- Textbook B-movie horror entry that utilizes the genre conventions to ideal effect.
- Some interesting tweaks to the “misdirection” strategy work up until the halfway point.
- The leading ladies Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sara Sarah Michelle Gellar do their due diligence to vie for the audience’s attention and support.
If you like our I Know What You Did Last Summer review, take a look at these other Horror flicks.
Movie Info (From IMDb)
Production company: Mandalay Entertainment
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Muse Watson, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki
Director: Jim Gillespie
Screenwriter: Kevin Williamson
Producers: William S. Beasley, Stokely Chaffin, Erik Feig, Neal H. Moritz
Director of photography: Denis Crossan
Production designer: Gary Wissner
Costume designer: Catherine Adair
Editor: Steve Mirkovich
Composer: John Debney
Casting directors: Mary Vernieu
Rated R, 101 minutes