Saturday, 30 July 2022

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Hurled into production after screenwriter Kevin Williamson scored a box office hit with Scream, director Jim Gillespie's I Know What You Did Last Summer is a far more routine pass at a late 90s slasher. The film is content to idle forward, slowly ticking off the remorseful teens who ran over a night-time stroller then tipped his bleeding body off a pier, so as not to disturb the bright futures they saw immediately ahead of themselves. Structurally speaking, I Know is the anti-Scream in that it deliberately thwarts the audience's natural desire to speculate on the identity of the killer. Roseanne vet Johnny Galecki plays Max, a nerdy snooper who displays all the hallmarks of a suspicion magnet: he's nursing an unrequited crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt's Julie; he's a whipping boy for the male contingent of her friendship group; and, crucially, he spots the teens acting suspiciously following the car crash incident that sits at the centre of the piece. 

Rather than string the audience along using this Max character, Williamson's script, an adaptation of Lois Duncan's 1970s young adult book, quickly jettisons him. The impulse behind this decision has a sense of deconstruction to it - this most likely suspect is now off the board and, surely, all bets are off if innocent bystanders are themselves being murdered? Unfortunately this writing flourish doesn't then pave the way for a startling new revelation that could be intuited from a close examination of the film's opening act. If Max, this unconnected but axe-grinding witness, has been slain then who could possibly be taunting this group? Naturally suspicion falls on the bashed-in body they dumped in the drink. This new framing implies a supernatural element in the film, one seemingly borne out by the Fisherman killer's ability to fill a car boot full of crabs feasting on a bloated teenager, then perform a full spit-and-shine service in the minutes between Julie discovering this nautical horror and her attempts to then reveal it to her beaten-up friends. 

The Fisherman killer's taunting goes beyond a simplistic, tit for tat revenge. Indeed the complete failure of any of these characters to thrive following that fateful night seems to indicate that the piece itself is acting against them. I Know is surprisingly prim in that sense. Williamson denies these characters the lives they dreamed of, hammering them back into small-town routine or, in the case of the most virtuous character Julie, having her unconsciously sabotage her chance at escape. There are even notes that imply that this is a just, tormenting, punishment being enacted from beyond-the-grave - Ryan Phillippe's image obsessed rage case has his good looks fouled (but not ruined) by a ghostly hit-and-run driver while Sarah Michelle Gellar's Helen has her beloved hair trimmed into a neat bob while she sleeps - but this spectral swirl ends up terminating in the dull den of a middle-aged man, grasping at his own straws. In the end this Fisherman killer is an unheralded aside who jumps through hoops to excuse these teens of their inciting crime.  

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