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The timing is ripe for an all-new version of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” to be revived: The 1997 film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Ryan Philippe, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was a contemporary piece with the original Neve Campbell-led “Scream,” which is soon returning with a much-hyped new sequel-slash-reboot movie, and slasher pop culture is now at a perfect millennial nostalgia touchpoint. However, unlike January’s upcoming “Scream,” Amazon’s eight-episode “I Know What You Did Last Summer” series isn’t also a continuation of the original series (including the 1998 sequel “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer”), despite the recent passing of the torch from the original cast. Instead, writer and executive producer Sara Goodman has created a whole other loose adaptation of the 1973 Lois Duncan novel of the same name.
The Amazon series shares little in common with the movies, begging the question of it using established IP for something otherwise unrecognizable that may do more harm to its audience perception in the long run than good.
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The general “I Know What You Did Last Summer” premise is still the same: After covering up a hit and run, a group of friends is stalked the following summer by a serial killer who taunts them and picks them off one-by-one. Boiling them down to their requisite archetypes, the TV show’s friend group is comprised of twins Lennon and Alison (Madison Iseman), rich girl Margot (Brianne Tju), Nice Guy Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman), wrong side of the tracks misfit Riley (Ashley Moore), and gay best friend Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso). Also ultimately dragged into the web of deceit and lies created by that specific summer night are Lennon and Alison’s dad Bruce (Bill Heck), Riley’s mother Courtney (Cassie Beck), Lyla (Fiona Rene), the chief of police investigating the murders as they pile up a year later, and Clara (Brooke Bloom), a mysterious character whose motives and presence only become even more mysterious with more screen time.
While pilots are tough to get perfect or even right, the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” pilot (“It’s Thursday”) is arguably the strongest argument that this series should have instead been a reboot film. An opening voiceover waxes faux intellectual about not really knowing anyone, spoon-feeding the audience as to what the overall theme of the series is, despite it being a standard theme in slasher fare. This is followed by 40 more minutes encapsulating a “last summer” flashback that also includes flashbacks within it, thus taking just under an hour to set up a premise that could easily have been set up in 15 minutes or less. On the plus side, the very nature of the series and its genre forces the pilot to actually be a pilot and not have the entire season be one instead, avoiding a recent issue in many recent first streaming seasons. However, it’s still 50 minutes of set-up that’s technically all in service of a twist that one can quite easily figure out if they think about the fact that the series has its lead actress playing twin characters for even a few seconds.
At no point in its first four episodes (which will be dropped on Oct. 15, before the series goes to a weekly release schedule) does Amazon’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” create a compelling argument as to why it should be an eight-hour-long series instead of a two-hour-long (at most) movie. In terms of success for the slasher genre on television, on a scale from Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens” (at the top, despite its faults) to MTV’s stab at “Scream” (at the bottom), it’s difficult to know where to place “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It takes itself far more seriously than the former, and it at least has a budget that makes it a cut above the latter in terms of presentation. But despite the source material and the expectations of a series version of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” the comparisons are particularly difficult to make because it simply appears that creator and showrunner Goodman did not set out to make a slasher series. A serial killer series, perhaps, but not a slasher series.
Based on the set-up and execution of this version of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” Goodman is clearly less interested in the slasher side of the horror and thriller genre and more interested in the genre from the perspective of personas, doubles, mirror images, and mistaken identities. Her “I Know What You Did Last Summer” ultimately has more in common with films like “Vertigo,” “Persona,” “Dead Ringers” than its source material (either novel or movie). While this show has brutal deaths and bloody bodies, in the first four episodes, all but one of the kills happen offscreen. And the exception to that is so especially gruesome that the further away the series gets away from it — as it piles up the body count — the more it unintentionally feels like a hate crime than anything else. Like MTV’s “Scream” before it, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” falls victim to the issue of making every episode 40-plus minutes of “filler” before finally getting to the kill at the very end.
And not only do these kills happen offscreen, but there is no identifiable iconography similar to the original movie, or even its slasher contemporaries. The killer’s actions outside of unseen murders translate mostly to ominously texting the group of friends like a rudimentary version of “A” from “Pretty Little Liars.” It’s one thing to assume that the “Pretty Little Liars” comparisons will be there simply from the series’ promotional material, but it’s another to see it in action and realize that a show from 2010 managed to lap one from 2021 in terms of its use of technology and cyberbullying. Were there a mix of both the classic slasher tropes and advancing technology, it might make sense. Still, “Pretty Little Liars” already did all that this show could possibly do with that combination, and then some.
However, the most jarring thing in Amazon’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is the reveal of its setting up top: Instead of a small East (or even West) coast fishing town, it’s the fictional Hawaiian coastal city of Wai Huna (filmed in Waialua). (The visual tone that’s set for the series by horror director Craig William Macneill in the pilot would work better for a dreary mainland fishing town.) The series is set in Hawaii and steeped in Hawaiian culture that’s while still ultimately centered on a white family. By the fourth episode, when these white characters have a Hawaiian funeral, the most screen time actual Hawaiians have on this show comes in the form of nameless, one-line roles. Nothing is actually gained from this setting — other than a tax credit, perhaps — and the majority of white faces throughout only leads to questions of what version of Hawaii this actually is.
The answer to the question whether Amazon’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” could stand on its own merits, if not for the title, is that this series could easily be far more effective as a movie instead. As it stands, it’s unfortunately just an overlong story that an otherwise talented cast has to work hard to land.
Amazon’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” begins streaming Oct. 15.
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