TV Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Okay, let’s do the traditional info dump first, So ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ is a teen horror TV series, which in a similar vein to Scream, the TV series, is a small screen adaptation of a 90s horror/slasher franchise. It is based on the 1997 movie of the same name, and it’s 1998 follow up I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and more tenuously the 2006 direct-to-video film I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which themselves were loosely based on a 1973 suspense novel of the same name by Lois Duncan.

The 2021 series was adapted by Amazon Prime Video by Sara Goodman (noted for writing and/or producing Preacher, Outsiders and Gossip Girl) alongside an expansive team of executive producers including Neal H. Moritz (noted for the Fast & Furious franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog, Jump Street, Prison Break and The Boys), Pavun Shetty, Erik Feig (noted for adapting other teen/youth books to screen including The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games series and the Divergent series), Peter Guber (noted for The Kids Are All Right, Rain Man, Batman, The Color Purple and Gorillas in the Mist), James Wan (noted for co-creator the Saw and Insidious franchises and the creator of The Conjuring Universe), Craig William Macneill (noted for Lizzie and The Boy) and Shay Hatten (noted for John Wick: Chapter 3, Parabellum and Army of the Dead).

I Know What You Did Last Summer stars Madison Iseman, who portrays both Allison and Lennon, twins, with Allison being the well behaved, reserved and and ‘good’ twin and Lennon being the more outgoing, popular and sexually promiscious twin. Brianne Tju (who was also in Scream, the TV Series) plays Margot, a rich and somewhat judgemental girl, who suffers from her own insecurities and trauma which inform the story. Ezekiel Goodman, who portrays Dylan, who has been in love with Allison since long before the events of last summer, and who is also Riley’s best friend. Ashley Moore, portrays Riley, a friend of both Lennon and Dylan, who she is secretly crushing on. She is from the wrong side of the tracks, and sells drugs to make money for her family. Sebastian Amoruso, plays Johnny, who is Margot’s best friend, an openly gay man, currently dating the coach of the local high school, and he is one of the few people who really knows Allison. 

Okay, so firstly the good: 

First despite being based on a popular slasher series, and having the obvious blueprint of other TV series like Scream to follow, it didn’t steer into the gruesome and bloody nature of the murders. I mean I think the most violent deaths are those of Johnny and Eric very early on when things are still taking shape, and Courtney, who actually died a very Saw inspired death, which is no surprise as one of the executive producers is a co-creator of that franchise. I will say that seemingly to balance the more tempered approach to murder, as there’s a fair share of off-screen deaths, it does add some titillation, which I was not expecting, some Onlyfans porn (which of course is relevant to the plot) and the absolutely stunning Brianne Tju ends up in various states of disrobe throughout the eight episodes. This isn’t exactly new in the realms of horror, as many horror/slasher movies across the 80s, 90s and 2000s blend in a little sex with their blood and gore and it works within the context of the story here as well.

Another positive element is that the setting is beautiful, Hawaii is truly a spectacular place and the beautiful cinematography helps to truly spotlight the awe inspiring nature of the island. I mean I rewatched the finale earlier today before sitting down to review the season as a whole, and the final shot of two of the main characters standing on a steep cliff, overlooking the ocean below. It’s incredible and the only negative about the whole thing is that it has the potential to overshadow the final scene by drawing focus from the main characters to the scenery. 

While I also have some things to say about the execution of it, I like that it’s not just an update or reboot of the original story, but instead attempts to do something unique and a little different. It manages to retain enough similarity to the original story though, the original creative licence to still feel connected to it, rather than a whole new concept that’s borrowing from another intellectual property for clout or to attract viewers. 

I feel like it presented a solid mystery, I wasn’t sure who the killer was, and I enjoyed the twists and turns. Do I think it was the best possible route? Probably not, but it was interesting, and worked, and even managed to surprise both myself and Tori, both of whom are veteran viewers of thrillers and mysteries. 

I felt that the characterisation and acting was strong, and they did great work considering the limitations they had to work with. By that I mean, there were no particularly likeable characters, even Dylan who was for the most part relatively bland still suffered from a sense of entitlement and selfishness that seems to define the core group. It’s interesting that they would chose to make them all in their own way so unlikeable, and I think that it’s because they all do deserve to suffer, and the more likeable they are the more we route for them, so contrary to that we side with the killer because we sort of want to see them punished. And yet, each actor and actress brings a nuance and depth to the role that makes to second guess that initial assessment, it doesn’t quite redeem them but you don’t want to see them violently murdered either. I have to particularly applaud Madison Iseman, who portrayed both twins with a range and distinction, and made us care about her plight while also being responsible for killing her sister and stealing her identity. 

Now for the bad points:

Overall, I would say that the show is worth watching, but in all honesty it takes a few episodes to really capture you, and so the less forgiving viewer might have already given up on it. So I would suggest that you hold off on judgement until at least episode 4, which is the halfway mark before you officially decide whether this show is for you or not. 

I feel kinda bad about this point because it has absolutely nothing to do with the actress Cassie Beck, who I’m sure is a nice person, but she has the dubious honour of portraying one of the most unlikeable and unredeemable characters I’ve ever seen put to screen. She plays Courtney, Riley’s mother and I cannot fathom what her role is supposed to be. She’s rude, abrasive, crass and seems to steer into that unpleasantness at every opportunity. Quick example, she’s employed at the Ohana Restaurant and Lodging, and during a scene of a double homicide on the property she quips about how she’s not cleaning that up. It’s ridiculously inappropriate, in no way funny and speaks to her self centred view of things where this legitimate tragedy is broken down to the inconvenience it places on her life. Another thing, we get the clear indication that she and her family aren’t exactly well off, but she apparently knows and is totally comfortable with the fact her daughter is a drug dealer. I personally am willing to forgive a lot of sins, but that level of shitty parenting knocks you so far down in my opinion that I genuinely wasn’t bothered by her death at all. I do feel I may have gone too heavy on that opinion though and I want to once again express how this is not my opinion of the actress who did the role well. 

I spoke about it as a positive above, because I felt it was interesting and because it spoke to the talents of the cast in their ability to portray them, but the fact that the core cast are so unlikable is at least a small part of why the show wasn’t well received. After all, who wants to devote the time it would take to watch all eight episodes, to characters you don’t even like.

As with any story with a mystery at its core, you need to assess whether it works or not, and while I feel that the final reveal strains credulity somewhat, I enjoyed it. I feel that if you watch the entire season, and you understand the character dynamics at play you can understand why certain people do what they do and why in the end the killer acts as they do. It’s not exactly satisfying, and it does feel like an attempt to pull the rug out from the feet of the viewer rather than writing a conclusion which works outside of a vacuum, but it’s plausible and that’s good enough. That being said, something that retroactively reduced my overall opinion of the show, was right at the end, the killer does a direct to camera testimonial filling in what happened and how they did the whole thing. This on it’s own is rather interesting, but it only really exists because of the confusing plot, and if you need to have someone explain the entire thing then you either don’t have any faith in your viewers ability to understand or you know that your story is weak. 

Following on from that, while overall I feel it’s worth watching, I think too much was going on, the bait and switch with the twins, the death cult and the mysterious presence of Clara. The whole thing with the twins mother, and also the fact that the dad seemed to be hiding things too. It all becomes too much, and while a certain amount of it helps to provide complexity to the broader mystery, and give us red herrings so that the identity of the killer is somewhat obfuscated it all together is a touch overwhelming and detracts from the overall story. 

Okay one last problem, and this is a particular problem with Margot, but I was so fed up with the show’s use of slang and vernacular. It felt awkward and overused, especially the phrases high-key and low-key. It became incredibly annoying and really weakened the overall dialogue. It felt like the writers were trying to write how they think young people talked rather than actually listening to them. The result was a lot of cringey and unrealistic word choice that just didn’t sit right with me. 

So finally thoughts, I Know What You Did Last Summer was a reasonable update to a 90s slasher classic, it boasted a beautiful setting, an interesting adaptation of the core plot and a cast of strong actors who manage to make the most of the roles written for them. It is hampered by a slightly confusing plot and characters who struggle to make themselves relatable. Overall I think I’ll give it a 2.5/5. I would consider watching a second season, but I hope they streamline the follow-up story, and make more of an effort to remember that this is a character driven genre and if we don’t like the characters then no amount of intrigue will make up for that. 

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