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Amazon’s I Know What You Did Last Summer Fails its Premise

Everything old is new again. There’s a “Scream” trailer gaining buzz; “Halloween Kills” opens today in theaters and drops tomorrow on Peacock; there’s a “Chucky” TV show now! Given the landscape, it’s kind of surprising that it took this long to do an update of the ‘90s slasher hit “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which drops on Amazon Prime tomorrow, October 15th. Very loosely based on the 1973 novel by Lois Duncan (which isn’t even a slasher story) and the 1997 film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar, the new version of “IKWYDLS” seeks to update the story with threads about social clout, drug use, self-abuse, identity, and more. It leads to a project that's constantly waffling in tone, overplaying its teen melodrama in the first two episodes sent to press before going off the rails in a way that still feels uncertain about the motives behind rebooting this franchise. Every remake should start with the same question: "Why?" This one just started with “Why did it take so long?” and figured everything would just fall into place.

2021’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” opens with the return of a girl named Alison (Madison Iseman), a year after an unspeakable tragedy. Why has she been gone for a year, barely contacting her father (Bill Heck) or friends? Most of the premiere flashes back to a fateful night a year ago, when Alison was attending a party with her twin sister Lennon (also Iseman) and some of their beautiful friends. Much of the pilot plays like a teen drama, as a sort of love triangle between the twins forms with a young man named Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman) and we’re introduced to the rest of the characters who will soon be forced to make an insane decision—accept responsibility for a horrible accident or try to cover it up—including the compassionate Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso), confident Riley (Ashley Moore), and outgoing Margot (Brianne Tju).

Everyone knows what happens next. The cover-up, which involves a creepy cave that was the site of a cult suicide that took Alison/Lennon’s mother, doesn’t go quite right. Did someone see them? Is it possible their victim isn’t even dead? That’s this Scooby Squad’s first thought when Alison starts getting cryptic messages like the title of the show. And then the bodies start lining up in brutal fashion. (This is definitely an R-rated take on the material, FYI.) There’s a major twist in terms of the identity of the victim that I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say that it gives the new project its most interesting themes even if it denies fans a return of the murderous fisherman.

You know how a lot of slasher movies stop making sense if you think about them for too long? Episodic seasons make that even harder. They’re also not a genre thick with character depth, and the leads in this version of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” will make one long for the relative nuance of Freddie Prinze Jr. When they’re not inconsistent or repetitive, they’re just boring. Iseman is a talent who feels let down by the material while Brianne Tju has the charisma of a future star, but they’re saddled with the kind of slasher movie cardboard cut-out characters that one grows tired of after 90 minutes, much less an entire season. Only the great Bill Heck seems to find a consistent tone, almost as if he’s visiting from a better show.

While I’m not too sure that remaking things that worked before should dominate the market, I’m a fan of horror reboots when they’re done right. I even thought the MTV series riff on “Scream” was cleverly self-aware, a tone that’s lacking here. This show takes itself deadly seriously so often that it drains the slasher concept of its potential fun. It becomes a drag. Yeah, I know what you did last summer. But I don’t care.

Four episodes screened for review.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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