In the hierarchy of ’90s teen franchises that were ripe for rebooting, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was midway down the list. The 1997 film was moderately successful in satisfying the demand for the combo of gory teen horror and self-referential Kevin Williamson dialogue in the shadow of the far more important cultural milestone “Scream.”
The “I Know What You Did” movie, a could-not-be-looser adaption of the 1973 Lois Duncan novel of the same name, served up enough memorable moments that they’ve probably burrowed deep into most elder-millennials’ brains: threatening messages scrawled in red paint on mirrors as Sarah Michelle Gellar shatters the glass; a slicker-clad murderer maiming attractive teens with a fishing hook; Freddie Prinze Jr. and Ryan Phillipe’s dreamboat pouts; and Jennifer Love Hewitt screaming “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!” to no one as her shirt gets gratuitously soaked in the pouring rain.
The Amazon Prime reboot makes the ’90s slasher flick feel quaint and fuzzy by comparison. In fact, there’s hardly any need to call it part of the “Last Summer” franchise. Sure, a new set of teens get involved in a drunken hit-and-run on their high school graduation night, and they’re terrorized and stalked exactly one year later by someone who knows what they did. But other than those broad strokes, the only thing this iteration owes to any predecessor seems to be the image of threatening messages scribbled in blood or blood-like pigment on mirrors, which arrives within the first scene of the pilot.
A tortured-looking Lennon (Madison Iseman) returns home from her freshman year of college to find a severed goat’s head and the series’ title written on her closet’s mirrored door. As she screams at an impressive decibel, we flash back one year earlier, when Lennon and her mousier and equally messed-up identical twin sister, Allison, attended a drug- and sex-fueled graduation rager at their rich friend Margot’s (Brianne Tju) cliffside mansion overlooking the coasts of Oahu.
After plenty of melodramatic confrontations and a buffet of illicit substances, Lennon and her friends — including brooding nerd Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman), free-spirited BFF Riley (Ashley Moore) and world-weary gay charmer Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso) — pile into a car and swerve into a heavy object. They initially think they’ve hit a goat, apparently common in their area of Hawaii — but it turns out to be a human who’s now very much dead. The friends/frenemies get rid of the body and swear never to speak of the incident again, but of course that’s become impossible.
Amazon Prime won’t let critics reveal very much about what happens — including who was driving and who was killed — and the secrecy is actually justified. The series manages to serve up some genuinely surprising twists and shocking violence that will satisfy horror junkies. The first whopper comes at the end of the first episode … it’s a surprise you already suspect might be coming, but you still have to give the show props for going there. And shortly thereafter, the writers set up a particularly juicy subplot only to end it abruptly with the early and spectacularly gory murder of one of the most likeable characters.
Compared to other thrillers that streamers have been trying to sell to the young adult market — such as Peacock’s “One of Us Is Lying” and HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” —I ” Know What You Did Last Summer” is less self-serious and refreshingly willing to roll in teen horror sleaze like a feral goat in a pile of delicious garbage.
However, the series falls into a lot of the same traps as other reboots that inevitably strip the material of their ’90s and early ’00s charms in their efforts to modernize. As is the case with all the others, including the “Scream” TV series, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is overly self-aware and overly slick.
Teen horror creators of today seem to have forgotten that relatability is key. A murder is scarier when it happens in a suburban house with a tire swing in the backyard than in a modernist mansion that looks like it has temperature-controlled floors. Not all parents need to be hot and seemingly barely older than their kids. A hero who scoops ice cream or babysits as their job is easier to scream with than a social influencer with millions of followers like Margot (still, Tju manages to bring some freshness to the already-tired archetype, rescuing lines like “Time and space are irrelevant in the age of social media” with appropriately shameless delivery).
Nevertheless, this series has its fun OMG and gross-out moments; while it’s probably not going to be as remembered as the 1973 or 1997 source material — neither of which rose to the level of classic in their respective genres –it’s leagues better than the big-screen sequels “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” and “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer,” which we’re still and always trying to forget.