Subtlety and originality? Look somewhere else!
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Let's get the obvious out of the way: the film has already set itself up for punishment by critics and audiences alike. The title shows how dumb the film is going to be. After all, it's chronologically incorrect. Even teenagers are quick to point that out. Judging from this, one might expect a send-up of the series. It is not. Critics bash the film, as they do with every teen slasher film. And judging from the reaction of the audience, this film will never approach the success of the first film. But that's not to say it's bad entertainment.
A week ago, Adam Sandler's brainless comedy, The Waterboy, was released, and audiences ate it up. Now comes a highly entertaining film (something Sandler's film wasn't) and it will get crushed by Sandler's following. The point is, both films are brainless. The difference: one of them is actually fun to sit through. This film once again solidifies my theory that slasher films will never be a respected genre... ever. No matter how much Kevin Williamson writes, not one person will consider this to be a good genre. Except me.
Ah yes, you can sense it. I'm getting up on my soapbox. What does it take to make you laugh? A man falls down stairs, and you laugh. A man tackles another guy, and somehow, you laugh. What does it take to make you cry? Watch a woman lose her only true love, you cry. Watch a man get punched in the crotch, you cry (well, men do anyway). What does it take to make you jump and grab someone next to you? It takes skill. As a film student, I have found myself watching films for technical achievements, rather than anything else (boy, I hate that too). The editing and direction that it takes to get people to jump in their seats is extremely difficult. Scream had audiences scared stiff. So did Scream 2. What about the rest of these films then? They are quite scary too.
But here's I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (I will shorten that to I STILL KNOW from now on), a film that builds on suspense, continuously, until ending in preposterousness... an ending that could and should have been excised from the film. The above headline isn't completely true, however. It isn't an original film whatsoever, but it does contain a bit of subtlety (if you discount blood and gore from that element) that many missed. Teens hate subtlety as we know. Hell, they actually like Adam Sandler's amateurish comedy. But even critics didn't see the subtleness. Granted, it's not subtle in many, many ways. But there are ways in which the film surprises by its genuine craftiness.
I STILL KNOW begins with Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) being haunted by the memories of what she and her friends did two summers ago. She walks into a church cathedral to confess her sins. Instead of a priest, she is talking to Ben Willis (Muse Watson). He shoves his fisherman's hook through the gate, and grabs her. Julie wakes up, to the annoyance of her professor. Her good friend Will (Matthew Settle, a Tom Cruise look-a-like) asks her what is wrong, and she explains her situation. As she sleeps that night, sounds come from her closet, and it's only her best friend Karla (Brandy Norwood). Here's stupid for ya: Karla sneaks around the house, making creepy noises, yet leaves the lights off. Her explanation? "I thought you were out of town." So... why not turn on the lights? Why run across the hall? These questions aren't answered, nor are they requested by the filmmakers to be answered by the audience.
Strangely, the answered questions in I STILL KNOW aren't that bright. Karla wins a trip to the Bahamas by answering a simple radio show question: what is the capital of Brazil? Brasilia, right? Well, that's not her answer. "Rio de Janeiro," she exclaims. She wins. The audience laughs. Why did she win? Well, let's just say it's quite important to the plot. From the moment of that answer, I knew who the killer was, but I didn't know who it was. If that is confusing, it makes a lot of sense while watching the film. That is, if you actually pay attention. Karla chooses her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) to go, while Julie wants to take her fling from the last film, Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.). Unfortunately, he can't go, so she takes Will who has a crush on her. But Ray does go, after deciding to surprise her. After all, where's a better place than the Bahamas to pop the question of marriage?
Unfortunately for the four, hurricane season is rolling in, and they are stuck inside the resort for most of the vacation. That provides plenty of creepy locations for a killer to hide. Quickly, people start dying in gruesome ways. One is hooked in the mouth and pulled from a car, while another is impaled with a gardening tool. It's definitely signs of Willis, who was never found after he lost his hand from the last film (by the way, that hand thing is forgotten in this film). For those who were upset by Urban Legend or Disturbing Behavior's lack of violence, they are more than likely to be satisfied here.
Frankly, this is exactly what a horror film should be (which accounts for the average rating). It's dumb at times, the characters are mostly the actors inhabiting roles built for themselves, and the gore is at extreme. Admittedly the scares could have been increased, though as with the original, true suspense fills in. We grow to like these characters, and then we watch them die. It's an easy way to get a response out of the audience, but the suspense is first-rate. One scene has Julie being locked in a tanning bed (the scene would have been more frightening had the victim died). This scene alone had me on the edge of my seat. Another scene has Karla stuck in a greenhouse with two exits--one of them locked from the outside, and the fisherman blocking the other. However, that particular scene ended cheaply, as it provided a perfect opportunity to end the movie.
I guess my biggest problem with these movies is the endings, which usually end with a surprise appearance by the supposedly dead killer. This one is particularly annoying, as it's virtually impossible for the killer to come back. Yet he does. And the final showdown isn't all it should be anymore. In the past, it was a face-off between good and evil. Now, it's usually two good friends against one bad guy. It's just not as exciting. And as for the killing method, why a gun? Sure, it's easy because you can kill them from far away, but what's scary in that? A knife or other sharp, metal object (in which you have to get close to the killer to use) would have been much more efficient. That's right... I want a struggle to the end. I hate it when films take the easy way out. Sure, it's illogical. Who wants logic?
Writer Trey Callaway is no Kevin Williamson (of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer fame). Callaway is mediocre on dialogue, and mediocre at characters. His plotting is rather surprising and intelligent, mostly due to the reasons behind the characters' motives. It all really makes sense, for the most part. Again, we have all the standard horror film cliches that Scream made fun of, such as walking around in the dark without thinking of flipping on a light, or having the lights go out just at the inopportune moment. There's also the False Start when a character is startled by one thing, turns, and then is startled by the actual killer (or friend). Stings are recurring items in slasher films, and they are just too much fun. These are the "jump" moments. You know the drill: close-up of character, their point-of-view, close-up of character and surrounding area, then something jumps into the frame (killer, friend, or animal), accompanied by a loud music chord. It's a shame these films aren't presented in digital stereo... they'd be incredibly scarier (of course, it may just be that all the theaters in my city aren't showing it in digital).
Director Danny Cannon is much improved here from his awful Judge Dredd, using the camera quite effectively. His cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric, and shadows are captured sharply. His cast is top-notch as well, which only adds to the film's overall effectiveness. Hewitt returns for another try at killing the monster, and she is the one to watch. Her scream is terrifying, she's very likable, and her girl-next-door persona aids in letting us care for her when a man swings an axe towards her. Brandy Norwood has been in films before (most notably the extremely scary Arachnophobia), and she shows promise here. She at least made me forget her horrible real-life self-indulgent attitude, anyway. Mekhi Phifer is okay as the horny boyfriend, but of the male leads, Matthew Settle makes the lasting impression. He's got star quality, but someone ought to tell him that horror films won't get him very far. Freddie Prinze Jr. is back in a very obligatory role. Muse Watson is suitably freakish, and David Benton makes an important appearance as the bellboy.
I STILL KNOW is rated R for intense terror violence and gore, strong language and some drug use. While certainly nowhere near as effective as Scream or Urban Legend, it is an average slasher film, certain to brighten your date. However, don't expect this film to be the last of the series, as it reportedly cost around $24 million to produce. It will probably take in that much the first week. Hopefully horror films will stop being produced for a while, so that audiences can await the arrival of the next. It seems that one is coming out every weekend nowadays. My advice: slow down, produce about two to three a year, and just give the audience a taste of what's going to come next year. It'll fare much better at the box office.
**1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie