Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Movie Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Decent atmosphere, one great chase scene
Cons: Not quite at the level of a scary classic
The Bottom Line:
Sins come back to haunt
As guilty teens stalked and killed
Not classic, still fun

Four Can Keep a Secret, but If There’s a Fifth?

While the 80’s will probably always be the decade most closely associated with the slasher film, it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the mid-90’s thanks to Scream.  That movie created its own franchise and a slew of imitators.  One of those imitators was I Know What You Did Last Summer.  While not perfect, it actually does hold up as a fairly suspenseful film.

Things are about to change for Barry, Helen, Ray, and Julie (Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jennifer Love Hewitt).  These four friends are excited to take the world by storm when they leave their small North Carolina town at the end of the summer.  Before they do, they accidentally hit a man along a winding country road on the evening of the 4th of July.  Since Barry had been drinking, the four friends decide to hide the body and take the secret with them to their grave.

A year later, the secret has destroyed the four friendships, and their dreams are quickly dying as well.  None of them can handle the guilt of what they did.  However, when Julie gets a threatening note in the mail and the others start to be harassed, they realize they must come together to figure out who else knows their secret.  Will they survive the upcoming holiday?

As I was watching the film, I realized that this movie has much in common pacing wise with the classic Halloween.  While we see the villain early on and know he is stalking our heroes (or anti-heroes, really), the murders don’t really start until the final reel.  Instead, in between the stalking scenes, we get Julie, often helped by the others, trying to figure out who is after them so they can stop the attacks.  The result is decidedly spooky and suspenseful.  This isn’t at the top of the genre (like the classic Halloween) and the mystery aspect often lessens the tension, but it works reasonably well.  There really is only one decent extended stalking scene, but it is wonderfully creative and executed.

The movie is sort of taken from the Lois Duncan book I Know What You Did Last Summer.  Honestly, the premise is the same, but there are lots of changes in the execution.  She was reportedly not very happy with the film, so fans of the book should be prepared for the changes.  90’s wunderkind Kevin Williamson, creator of Scream and Dawson’s Creek, was responsible for the adaptation and his script is good, as you’d expect.

The one thing that strikes me is that we care for our four main characters and root for them even though they have done something very wrong early in the film.  While the characters justify their actions to themselves and each other, I don’t feel like the film excuses their behavior.  Obviously, we see the effects of their guilt on their lives even before the action kicks off.  And let’s face it, the villain is also over the top evil, so it is easy to root for the teens to survive.

Slashers have a (well deserved) reputation for starring actors who can’t act.  One of the changes in the 90’s resurgence was better acting and better developed characters.  Both of those come into play here.  We do come to care for the characters before they die, and the actors do a great job of bring them to life.  Fans of The Big Bang Theory will enjoy getting to see Johnny Galecki in a supporting role here.

Of course, the film is rated R, filled with plenty of violence and foul language.

While certainly not at the level of the classics of the genre, I Know What You Did Last Summer delivers a decent amount of scares and thrills.  If you‘ve seen the classics and are looking for something else, I recommend you check it out.

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