1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer came right on the heels of Scream’s success, kick-starting the post-modern slasher boom in an exciting way. To this day, it remains not only one of my favorite horror movies, but one of my top ten favorite films of all time. That said, I was cautiously optimistic about a new iteration of the incredible Lois Duncan tale. Would it nail the right slasher tone? Would it follow in the heels of MTV’s Scream series, and inject an entirely different flavor of thrills and chills into the narrative? The wait is finally over, and I Know What You Did Last Summer is without a doubt worthy of a binge. Originally conceptualized as a new film written and directed by auteur creator Mike Flanagan, the concept has been recalibrated into an Amazon Prime original series. The very nature of a television show format is the perfect channel to capture this story. It is never afraid to go to some brutal, hyper-sexual, and profanity-laced lengths to cast its eerie twin-twinged iteration of this tale into the spotlight.
Starting with opening shots evocative of the 1997 classic, I Know What You Did Last Summer instantly incites an atmosphere of dark secrets and horrific realities. Through an omniscient narration, we are reminded: “you can never really know anyone, least of all yourself.” One year following a tragic car accident that changed their lives forever, several friends are forced to face their pasts. After a severed goat head is discovered dripping blood in a closet, then the message ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ scrawled neatly across a mirror in lipstick, the premiere episode takes us down memory lane and flashes back to “last summer.”
A big graduation party is happening, and it is our first real taste of this diverse roster. There is Allison (Madison Iseman), the soft-spoken virgin desperate to get out from the shadow of her party-girl “free and wild” twin sister Lennon (also Iseman); Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman), the cute nerdy love of Allison’s life, also a virgin; self-obsessed social media expert and potentially bisexual airhead Margot (Brianne Tju); “stunning queer king” and Margot’s BFF, Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso); and last but not least, Riley (Ashley Moore), a headstrong and curious girl who frequently acts as the voice of reason. Of course, each of these characters juxtaposes often drastically between their “last summer” counterparts. This serves to show how they have all been affected by tragedy over the course of one year, as well as builds character development that subsequent episodes flesh out further. Featuring many contrasting personality types, when the crazy shit really starts to hit the fan, I Know What You Did Last Summer is thrilling and propulsive.
So far, the only thing truly not working for me has been the relationships of the parental figures, mainly that of Allison and Lennon’s dad. It slows the pace considerably whenever we take a detour into adultsville, as it feels disconnected from the main narrative with the others. Nearly everything else ranges from good to great. I really enjoyed how the show pays tributes to movies of the past, keeping in tune with original film screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s affinity for the horror genre. In one scene, Margot complains, “What’s with all the screams, Neve Campbell?” Other references are more direct, in particular ones that callback to the 1997 movie. The mirror message, an obvious Missy Egan stand-in, the framing of the roadside accident itself, and that iconic window-slapping jump scare all make notable appearances. It also embraces an inherent campiness to the dialogue, sometimes unintentionally. It makes each character that much more endearing and fun to follow. Where else will one find a quotable gem like this one: “You fucked me to fuck her… and I fell for it. Now she’s dead. And I’ll never fucking forgive you.”
The mystery slowly unfurls over each episode. A different perspective is offered, providing key information from early on. The first major twist happens right at the end of the first episode, and sets a strong precedent for everything to follow. Out of the first four screened for critics, the brutality is most extreme in the second episode. Thus far, we never actually see the killer physically onscreen. We only see the aftermath of the playfully sadistic kills (with one major sidebar that I will not spoil here.) They are not afraid to dispatch these cast members in an absolutely brutal fashion. Of the murders, a double-kill is so savage in its depiction that it made me thankful Amazon Prime gave the creators freedom to embrace the deaths. Anyone familiar with the slasher genre will know already this aspect is extremely crucial to any slashterpiece.
While the pool of suspects slims more and more as the episodes progress, I can safely say that I still have no idea as to the identity of the killer. The show seems to be absent of a masked or slicker-donned murderer. Instead, I Know What You Did Last Summer follows the clever filmmaking POV-technique utilized in horror classics like Sleepaway Camp and the original Friday the 13th. This serves to amp up the tension, casting a suspicious shadow on nearly every single person at one time or another. One can feel a box being checked off methodically as if playing an intense game of Guess Who?—I was so sure I had things figured out completely, up until episode four threw a wrench in my theory. I cannot wait to see the direction this takes as we enter the back half of the season, and look forward to the eventual unmasking of this killer. If I Know What You Did Last Summer can stick the landing as ferociously as it opens this sordid, trashy tale, viewers are in for one seriously sticky treat.
I Know What You Did Last Summer unleashes its secrets, with its first four episodes coming exclusively to Amazon Prime on Friday, October 15th.