(Jim Gillespie, US, 1997)
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson, 'the creator of Scream', has been accused of attempting to resurrect the corpse of the 'stalk and slash' movie. Despite surface appearances, this isn't really so. True, his latest film, I Know What You Did Last Summer, is about a group of teenagers being menaced by a faceless killer. But the depth of characterisation afforded these young characters is far superior to anything found in a Friday 13th film. Williamson's script devotes ample screen time to introducing the four principals, all of whom are played by talented and likeable young actors and actresses. The result is that no one in the film ever inspires the kind of intense annoyance that is often found in true 'slice and dice' teen flick.
Instead of being a showcase for nastily graphic make up effects, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a murder mystery. Cuddling on a beach one dark night, two teenage couples talk about urban myths, swapping different versions of one about a psycho with a hook hand. On their drive back along a desolate road, they accidentally run over a man. Initially unsure what to do, the thuggish Barry (Ryan Phillipe) convinces his beauty queen girlfriend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the quiet Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) that going to the police would mean a manslaughter charge for them all. Only the intelligent Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) refuses to have any part of the scheme, but she is silenced after Barry physically threatens her. The group dump the unfortunate man's body into the sea, discovering too late that he was still alive.
A year later, and the four friends have lost contact with each other, each guilty about what happened that night. Then Julie receives an anonymous note, bearing a simple yet ominous message: 'I Know What You Did Last Summer.' The note brings the group back together. At first, the chief suspect seems to be Max (Johnny Galecki), who Barry bullies. But then Max is violently killed by an unknown murderer. Dressed in a fisherman's great coat and sou'wester, and brandishing a meat hook, the murderer attacks each of the characters in turn, and as the murders mount up, Julie desperately attempts to find out the identity of the mystery killer.
The main thrust of the story is the attempt to discover the killer's identity. Devotees of 1980's maniac movies may be disappointed at the lack of gore, but the search gives the film a firm backbone, with several nicely silly twists to be unravelled. Unfortunately, it also diminishes the killer, as it robs the character of any mythic dimension. A few half hearted links to the hook handed killer of urban legend attempt to remedy this, but that idea was used to greater effect in Clive Barker's Candyman. The killer's decision to adopt a heavy fisherman's oilcloth coat and sou'wester is likewise neither inspired nor cinematic. Jim Gillespie's direction is never more than adequate. He knows to use a floating camera, high and low angles, creepy music and dark rooms, and he puts them all in their proper places. What he isn't able to do is generate any kind of atmosphere as if Gillespie has made the film in strict adherence to a 'How to' manual. Benefiting from its solid script, young cast, and strong scenes (a girl being killed just inches away from a jolly parade works excellently), I Know What You Did Last Summer isn't a masterpiece, but it is an entertaining picture.