If there’s one important thing to take from I Know What You Did Last Summer, it’s that you should never go drinking and driving. Even though in this case, the person driving a car hadn’t been drinking, this is the only lesson I could take from this film. Maybe I’m trying to just give it something, because for the most part, I enjoyed it and would like to have some sort of deeper reason other than “it was thrilling”. But I guess making things up isn’t usually a good idea.
The plot kicks off when a group of teens coming home from a party end up accidentally hitting a man on the road. Presumed dead, they figure that the best idea is to toss him into the ocean and never mention the accident again. After all, if a couple of your members are drunk, that must mean that one of them was driving, right? And if that’s the case, everyone will be charged with manslaughter, right? But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt; they’re scared and have their whole lives ahead of them. Dumping the body doesn’t seem like the worst idea at this point.
A year later, after vowing that they would not tell anyone about the incident, our lead, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), gets a letter in the mail. It reads, in all capital letters: “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER”. I guess we know where the film’s title comes from. She shows this to her accomplices from that night, and they begin trying to find out who’s after them, and why — all the while being picked off one by one by a man referred to only to as “The Fisherman”.
I Know What You Did Last Summer is a slasher film, one with a villain that we know little about at the beginning, but the characters continuously attempt to learn about. It’s too bad that the film cheats in the answer, meaning that a lot of the characters’ time is wasted. I’ll spoil something now, because I don’t think it matters that it’s spoiled: The killer is not a person that the main characters ever think about, nor is it even a person that is brought up until the last 15 or so minutes of the film.
When you come to realize this, you may feel a little cheated by the film. You go on a long adventure with these people, only to find out that it was all in vain, and that nothing you learned was actually helpful. But, while trying to figure out who was hunting down these characters, you got to learn about them. Sure, most of them are cliched and don’t have anything more than superficial depth, but at least they get some development. That’s more than you can say for a lot of slasher films. They might grow on you enough to make you want to see them through to the end — just maybe.
With these little sidequests that the characters make, we get a lot of atmosphere building. That’s what a lot of slasher films rely on, right? Well, that and gore/nudity. Thankfully, in a change of pace, I Know What You Did Last Summer doesn’t focus on or even include much of the latter part. Director Jim Gillespie slowly builds his scenes, and the entire film, in a way that draws you in, allowing you to get comfortable, and then turns that idea upside down by throwing in The Fisherman whenever he so chooses. The kills aren’t the most creative you’ll ever see, but the focus isn’t on the kills — it’s on the build-up to them.
Unfortunately, the film definitely has a few major faults though. The most obvious one is the dialogue between the characters, which is, at times, almost unbearable. There are some lines that make little sense and others that are really corny. This isn’t helped by the delivery of these lines, which is almost never good. The actors must have been chosen if they could look pretty and scream well, because the actual acting is poor at best. But they are pretty and can, for the most part, scream, so they fit right in to the slasher genre.
There are also some implausibilities that you need to be able to mentally forget about in order to enjoy this movie. For example, the climax of the film takes place on a boat. Julie is one of the characters that is on it, but she isn’t alone. She realizes that the killer is on the boat, but despite the fact that it was only about 20 feet from the dock, she doesn’t jump out and swim for safety. I wager that she never learned how to swim. And then there is the whole set-up of the plot; pushing a possibly-still-alive body into the river is easier than explaining to the police that he seemed to appear from out of nowhere? I’m not sure I quite buy that. But then again, they were scared and people do funny things when scared. There are more of these moments, but you’ll need to come up with your own reasoning. Hey, you could even make a game out of it!
For all its flaws, (and there are certainly more than a few), I still quite enjoyed I Know What You Did Last Summer. For a slasher film to rely almost solely on atmosphere building without turning to excessive gore or nudity, I have to commend it. Not only that, but there was some character development that allowed the audience to care about some of the soon-to-be victims. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a fun slasher film that is restrained in its approach. For that, more than anything, I liked it.