Why Amazon's I Know What You Did Last Summer Fell Short Of Expectations

Based on the 1973 Lois Duncan novel of the same name, Amazon Prime’s slasher series I Know What You Did Last Summer follows five teenagers with a dark secret — last year they tried to cover up a hit and run, and this year they will pay for it. Released in October, the series comes 24 years after Jim Gillespie’s 1997 movie adaptation which starred well-known actors Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe as the fated friends.

The Amazon series features several new faces, as well as some familiar ones (Madison Iseman, Brianne Tju, Bill Heck) and also offers some fresh twists on the story. Whereas in the movie the teens accidentally run over a stranger who returns to kill them, in the series they hit the main character’s twin, and she dies. The killer here is ambiguous until the very end. Despite its promising concept and cast, the series received scathing reviews from critics. As it stands, I Know What You Did Last Summer currently has a 5.3 rating on IMDb and a score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. And of these reviews, some criticisms stand out amongst the rest.

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Right off the bat, the characters in I Know What You Did Last Summer are pretty awful. This has nothing to do with how they were acted, and all to do with how they were written. At the heart of the story is Allison (Iseman) who spends the series pretending to be her twin sister Lennon (the sister they actually killed).

Along with most of the group, Allison shows little remorse for her actions and becomes a little too good at playing the role of “mean and selfish sister." Whilst this is good news for her (she isn’t found out till the end) it's bad news for the audience who have to endure her unlikeable character. Allison/Lennon’s friends aren’t much better either. Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman) is an aptly described “sad boy,” Riley (Ashley Moore) is a bit boring, and Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso) is murdered too soon to have a personality.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Margot (Tju) is full of personality. An amalgamation of Gen-Z stereotypes, she is bratty, narcissistic, and, of course, “totes” obsessed with social media. Responsible for lines such as “low-key love that for you” she is, unfortunately, not the only character whose vocabulary resembles Urban Dictionary. “Sus,” “tea,” and “legit” are thrown around by each of the girls, and “f***ed up s***” is uttered at least three times an episode. Needless to say, attempts at being the next Euphoria fall flat with I Know What You Did instead evoking that “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?” meme.

There are so many things in I Know What You Did that just don’t make sense. The structure itself is unnecessarily confusing, switching between past and present-day without clear indication. This is made all the more confusing by the whole identical twin scenario. Whilst this is, of course, integral to the plot, the writers could’ve done a better job at establishing differences between the twins before one died.

In flashbacks, it’s hard to tell who is who, which is unusual considering Lennon and Allison are supposed to have such contrasting personalities. The writers did themselves a disservice here; whilst they could’ve used this angle to elevate tension — e.g., have Allison struggle whatsoever to play Lennon, or have the group slowly realize “Lennon’s” memories don’t align (which would make sense since the twins weren’t close) — instead Allison goes the whole series pretending to be her sister with hardly any trouble. And viewers are expected to believe that?

The only person to figure out “Lennon’s” true identity for themselves is Margot, and even that discovery doesn’t make sense: “Your [camera] angles and [Instagram] hashtags were so wrong, it was legit insane.” As it transpires, Margot is also the killer; her motivation being her obsessive love for the real Lennon. On the surface, this explanation holds up. She wanted to take revenge on Allison for driving the car that killed Lennon. But then why did she kill everyone in the group but Dylan, the only person Allison loved? And why does the ending have Margot fall in love with Allison? A second season will surely answer those questions — if the series is renewed.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, there is a whole subplot in I Know What You Did that winds up bearing very little relevance to the story. This subplot involves an omnipresent cult and its member Clara (Brooke Bloom), an unusual woman who becomes the prime murder suspect. As it turns out, Clara’s only “crime” was preparing the victims’ dead bodies for the afterlife. Her purpose was to prevent the audience from guessing who the real killer is, and once she dies, the cult subplot dies too, only to be resurrected in the series finale.

Falsely accused by Allison and Margot, Dylan is imprisoned as the killer, leaving the Bonnie and Clyde duo to continue their twisted love affair. They may not be in the clear for long, however, as it turns out Riley survived being stabbed, dismembered, and left to bleed out in the woods, thanks to some cult magic. Obviously, viewers have questions — another one being, how could Margot possibly be the killer? Because it’s quite frankly unimaginable, and the producers know it, Margot answers this herself during the end credits: “I just used an app to send all the messages on a timer,” “It was [mom's] idea to frame Clara,” "I couldn't have done it without Kyle." At least I Know What You Did is original?

All things considered, I Know What You Did’s biggest sin is that it just isn’t scary. Though it is marketed as a slasher series, many of the murders occur offscreen and have surprisingly little impact on the characters. At least the movie delivered on that front; with lots of chasing scenes and close-call moments, Gillespie’s horror is genuinely terrifying at times.

I Know What You Did follows a similar trajectory to Riverdale in that it begins as a teen drama, and ends up squarely in the supernatural realm with its cult and resurrection themes. Nobody asked for it, but we got it. And the same can be said of the series itself.

I Know What You Did Last Summer is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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