I Know What You Did Last Summer, the 1997 film, always flirted near the coattails of Scream, so it’s interesting that it arrives on Prime Video during the renaissance of the iconic Wes Craven-created horror franchise, with the refreshed Scream due in January 2022. Like the ’97 film, I Know What You Did Last Summer: The Series is based on the original 1973 book by Lois Duncan, and loosely takes on the idea behind the original, that of a character with slightly different personalities and – before you worry – this isn’t really a spoiler, as it’s a narrative decision that gives lead actor Madison Iseman the chance to play identical twins: Alison and Lennon, and she does it impressively.
Like the book and previous film, IKWYDLS is focused on the premise of an accidental death on a coastal road one night. However, it initially starts the year after something has happened, with Iseman’s character returning to the scene, and small town, of the crime, ready to catch up with friends and (we guess) pretend nothing has happened. Episode One is definitely a slow burner, with some scenes seemingly going on for far longer than they need to, complete with teenage angst, crushes being dramatic, alongside casual sex and drugs all taking part in what appears to be one of the plushest homes on the island, which is a setup that doesn’t exactly make you feel connected to the characters, in a privileged sense, even if this is their Graduation Party.
Despite this somewhat detached opening, over Ep 1 we’ll meet the people who’ll become involved in the tragedy, and roughly get an idea of how they either know each other or have connections which is – to be fair – what you’d expect in the initial stages of any TV series. The climax of the opener is this mishmash group of (possibly?) friends, who knock somebody down with their car on the coastal road, late at night with obvious huge regrets. Although, it does hit us with a nice twist, that we don’t need to go into at this stage.
Shocked and appalled by what they’ve accidentally done, which is kill someone, the same group of associates decide they’ll get rid of the body via the sea, even though they’re all a bit off their heads or on something, after their lavish party. The arguments themselves aren’t exactly full of sensible, or logical, decisions consider the setup of what happens, but they all go along with the plan anyway. As a review, it’s quite difficult to discuss specifics and plot devices without spoiling it immediately, which I’m sure you’ll understand.
While I Know What You Did Last Summer does have little twists and turns, there’s a lot more frustration here than a genuine air of the unknown. Decisions made by the group make little sense, and it sadly gets worse as the death ‘cover up’ gets more unbelievable, given what’s happened. It’s also far too slow to build up any real mystery, especially when you know what’s happened at the centre of everything, and the deaths that follow always bring the question: But why? It’s also difficult to attach when there’s little respite from the darkness, even just a small bit, and everyone is deep in their individual drama from the very first moment.
The truth is, the opening two episodes could easily be one, as the creators endeavour to add a depth which just isn’t needed and feels stretched. While they might be setting up various backstory, it’s difficult to connect because these characters aren’t particularly likeable, or you’re not given enough time to see why you should like, or understand, any of them. There’s slow burning, and then there’s slow, and despite decent performances from this talented, young ensemble cast (with Ashley Moore as Riley and Sebastian Amoruso as Johnny, with natural depth, stand out) you’re always at arm’s length from reality.
There’s another unusual nineties vibe that is quite obvious in IKWYDLS as well, because the female characters seem to be more irrational with their decisions, and we head to the male ones for strength and focus, which feels a little dated. Maybe this is a throw-back to teenage years and those vices, but this dips into cliché more often than we’d want with a modern horror-thriller, especially when they’re trying to bring the story to ‘now.’ When I think of how shows like 13 Reasons Why (S1) or Never Have I Ever, or even the underrated Scream TV series, and how innovative and progressive they are, this one isn’t the leap forward it wants to be.
While I’ve only seen the opening four episodes (and the 4th is more interesting), and I don’t know if it’ll shift up a gear for the final four, released week-by-week from 22nd October, it’s difficult to really care or understand why so many odd decisions are made, especially as this is such a tiny community that the story is set in. There’s a distinct lack of tension because the secret is out from the start and underlying mysteries are suggested but it’s all quite underwhelming, despite my theory that most of what we’re seeing is a red herring, and we’re overlooking something related to purposeful mis-referencing.
That thought isn’t really a spoiler, because I’m also waiting for the conclusion but I do hope you get more from it than I did, because I didn’t find enough plausible development to really get hooked deep into the skin of it, but I suppose if everyone eventually gets killed then we don’t have to worry about Season 2.