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I Know What You Did Last Summer

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Director: Jim Gillespie
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

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Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

After resurrecting and reinventing the teen slasher film for the '90s with the blockbuster Scream, screenwriter Kevin Williamson keeps the genre alive with I Know What You Did Last Summer, an effective "scary movie" directed by Jim Gillespie.

This adaptation of the novel by Lois Duncan begins with a violent accident that changes the lives of four teenage friends: sensible Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), beauty queen Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), bad boy jock Barry (Ryan Philippe), and nice guy Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) unwittingly run over and kill a man crossing a mountain road on the night of July 4. Instead of facing possible vehicular manslaughter charges--the car seats are doused with alcohol, thanks to hard-drinking Barry's clumsiness--the group decide to dump the body and keep that terrible night a secret for the rest of their lives. The foursome never see each other again until exactly one year later, after Julie receives an ominous note which gives the film its title.

I Know... is a more conventional thriller than Scream, which mined a mother lode of satire with its lampooning of horror cliches. Yet while it does follow a formulaic pattern, Williamson's script does not indulge in the typical "I'll be right back" norms. Certain characters are smarter than others, but most of the time everyone's frontal lobes are in working order. Thankfully, though, Williamson does not play everything completely straight; some arch bits of dialogue provide some good laughs, and Helen's beauty pageant scenes are hilarious in their dead-on cheesiness.

Williamson does fall short, however, in creating four memorable characters. Unlike Scream, which had a number of interesting, distinctive people on the canvas, here there are only two: blowhard Barry and especially the narcissistic, hair-obsessed Helen. Unfortunately, these two and the boring Ray take a backseat to the dull-as-dishwater Julie, played with little spark by Hewitt, a pallid stand-in for Neve Campbell. I suppose Gillespie wanted to play up the Scream connection by casting another Party of Five co-star in the lead, but he would have had a better leading lady in the gifted Gellar, whom I have admired since her pre-Buffy '93-'95 stint as hellion Kendall Hart on All My Children (which won her a Daytime Emmy). Granted, Helen is a flashier role than Julie, but the seamless manner in which Gellar slides from comical self-absorption to gut-wrenching fear hints at how much more life and conviction she would have brought to the lead.

But scares, not acting, is what draws audiences to horror films, and the Scottish Gillespie, making his American debut, offers heaps of shrieks. He delivers a few chilling sequences, in particular the creepy body-dumping scene and a tense chase-and-evasion set piece involving Helen. Mind you, he is no Wes Craven--the climax, set aboard a boat, leaves a lot to be desired in the suspensewise, but he recovers from that with a killer (yes, bad pun) ending. Many films claim to leave the audience screaming; once I Know What You Did Last Summer makes its final fade out, you may just find yourself doing so.

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