Sometimes the most comforting thing about a movie is its predictability. Whether it’s the pretty blonde girl who can’t seem to escape the killer or her meathead boyfriend who tries to protect her, sometimes the simplistic stories are just as good as the great thrillers. Built upon all the best plotlines and tropes in classic horror films, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” offers up a corny but fun take on a mid-summer thriller.
Taking place on the Fourth of July, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt, “Sister Act 2”) arrives back home from college for the summer, one year after a hit-and-run incident with her high school friends. She returns home to find her ex-boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr., “She’s All That”), best friend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”), and Helen’s ex-boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillippe, “Cruel Intentions”) all being taunted by an anonymous fisherman threatening to expose their dark secret. The friends reunite in an attempt to put an end to the threats and save themselves from trouble.
As a viewer, you want the friends to unmask the dangerous fisherman stalking them and prove that they did nothing wrong–but wait, they did. While watching, it’s simple to pick out the group’s mistakes–most obviously, dumping a body that they weren’t sure was even dead–but there are moments where you feel sort of sorry for the stupid young adults. The movie attempts for a serious telling of the story, and it half-works.
Hewitt and Gellar’s acting falls into familiar “pretty girl in a horror movie” territory. Both do a mostly convincing job at conveying their character’s complexities but that’s not to say they don’t have laughable scenes. After Hewitt’s character discovers a body in her trunk covered in crabs (presumably placed there by the fisherman killer), an overhead shot shows her spinning around in the street, flailing her arms as she screams (to no one), “What are you waiting for?!” It’s a moment that’s hard not to laugh at. Gellar’s character has a “Halloween” inspired chase through the night as the fisherman killer follows at a speed-walk. Recognizing these tropes may garner a couple eyerolls, but they remind you of the patterns in great horror films which makes up for any out-of-date acting or bland plots.
The film’s structure and mystery solving is reminiscent of a classic “Scooby-Doo” whodunnit, (which both Prinze Jr. and Gellar would co-star in a few years later) which gives it its lighthearted spirit. Ending with a classic switcheroo, we find out the fisherman isn’t the young man the teens thought they hit, but a father avenging the death of his daughter (who died at the hands of the original guy the friends thought they hit). If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The unveiling of the fisherman passes quickly, but it’s not hard to piece it together on your own. Gellar and Phillippe’s characters are both killed, but their fates are never shown directly, which leaves an authentic horror death scene to be desired. Prinze and Hewitt cap the movie off with an epic–but predictable–chase around a fishing boat at sea, and eventually knock their attacker overboard. Again, the young adults fail to come clean to police and instead play dumb when asked why someone would want to hurt them.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” will not go down as one of the greats, but instead as a well-rounded effort at a slasher. You can figure out what’ll happen next, but that doesn’t take away from how amusing it is to watch four teens run around aimlessly as a killer fisherman outsmarts them over and over. Complete with a heartthrob cast, barefoot chase scenes, and visits to a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, the film has all the makings of a horror classic, it just lacks ingenuity. But every now and then, it’s relaxing to put on a movie that doesn’t require much thinking.