Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (2021)

It is a great time to be a horror fan. From “requels” to reboots to continuations of beloved franchises to new material, it is not a new age or renaissance, but more a continuation of talented and respected artists, from directors to actors, caring about the genre and legitimately wanting work in it. Scream is the first profitable blockbuster of the year in theaters, the Chucky series is a bona fide hit for its network, established (Halloween and Texas Chainsaw) and new (X, Archive 81, etc.) are among the most anticipated and buzzed about upcoming titles across all platforms: frankly, horror is getting attention and money, as it should. With that zeitgeist in the air, I really had some high hopes for the I Know What You Did Last Summer series, and, well, the cast seems talented…so there’s that.

I genuinely wanted to like the reboot series. And, to be completely fair, the cast does seem legitimately talented, at least from what other roles I have seen them in. The musical choices, soundtrack, and score are adequate and work for the scenes, dialogue, and settings. The premise is largely the same, but has a few changes to differentiate from the original film. However, these changes ultimately make for a less interesting, more convoluted, more brain breaking narrative that is unfulfilling and eventually resulted in a cancelled series.

Homage or blatant copying? Does it matter if story doesn’t work?

I had previously mentioned this reboot series in another post and how it really wasn’t hitting for me. Still, I had always planned on going back and finishing the show since at that point only a few episodes had been released. Then, its cancellation after a single season was announced, but I wanted to finish out the show and see why, unlike other recent attempts with other properties, it had not managed to get an audience. After watching the series to its current completion, I understand the lack of a warm and open welcome.

So, again, the show itself has some merit. The actors, particularly for how young and new they happen to be, are actually pretty good. They sell their characters and the plots, as weird and convoluted as they may be, to the best of their abilities. With the plethora of teen drama based programming, the cast of I Know What You Did Last Summer manages to be believable teenagers/young adults (for the most part) without devolving into annoying, obnoxious archetypes (again for the most part). The musical direction is superb mixing good soundtrack selections with sound design to build tension or give levity when called for. Basically, it is a fine, at times even really good, television series built on a poorly plotted and constructed story.

The original film was very soap opera-esque with its narrative. There was the core cast of young adults who were mostly kind of annoying, assholish youths, but were played by a charismatic cast that had obvious chemistry with each other. But more so the “revenge” narrative was pretty straightforward and filled out the hour, forty runtime perfectly. The television series then had to make that simple, sub two hour idea last for an entire season (roughly ten hours) with potential for more after the fact. As you can imagine, it worked out as well as one could expect.

Unlike the film, this kind of thing makes more sense, but becomes far less impressive or intimidating once the killer is revealed.

In the film, the murder/revenge plot was just a fisherman who was trying to cover up his own crimes and get payback on a group of selfish teenagers. Kind of silly, but still rather standard and easy to follow and understand. The show, in an attempt to expand and drag out the story, takes a vastly different direction. For one, there is an inclusion of some sort of death and resurrection cult underlying the past of various characters and the island community at large. As well, there is a hippie commune that may or may not be tied to the history and practice of the cult. Most likely is, but circumstances are hazy enough to give some leeway. Furthermore, the core cast goes beyond the usual teenage archetypes of ‘jock’, ‘beauty queen’, ‘overachieving nerd’, etc. from the original film and tries to give the characters dimension and personality. A good idea, particularly if we are intended to be with these people for some time. However, their personalities are mostly made up of contemporary mental health and social issues like anxiety, depression, disassociative disorder, obsession with fame and influencer culture, etc. It almost seems like the writers picked things out of a bag of modern social media terminology and issues instead of having organic development among the cast and their characters as the season progressed.

Obviously, media can, and should, take on significant social and political issues and commentary, but it needs to do so with a deft hand and plan. Otherwise, it ends up seeming disingenuous and poorly constructed. And considering the reception and ultimate fate of the series, it appears that is exactly what occurred.

I did want to like this attempt at a reboot, but was not surprised that I ended up very much not enjoying it. And it seems like many joined my assessment. If you are in search of a reboot of a “classic” series that manages to be new and interesting while keeping a lot of what made the original great, the Chucky series is doing that in spades and already has been renewed for a second season. As well, fingers crossed that the Texas Chainsaw film on Netflix premiering next month is a positive one. Till then, there is plenty of horror, and other media, to enjoy.

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