The original film adaptation of Lois Duncan‘s 1973 suspense novel, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, has retained a cult status within the horror community since its release in 1997. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson took the premise from the original novel and shaped it into a slasher that would reverberate years later. So, when it was revealed that the story would be reimagined into a series, many were wary. The trailer’s release had commenters dismissing the latest adaptation left and right. However, I’d caution to give this series a chance. It takes Duncan’s premise and Williamson’s slasher elements while also updating it for today. The series format also lends itself to drawing out the necessary suspense while also allowing us to dive deep into the ensemble of characters onscreen. As a disclaimer, this review is based on the first four episodes provided.
The first episode has the devil’s task of having to set up the premise and, unfortunately, it is a mixed bag. We start the first episode off with tension. Madison Iseman’s Lennon has a tension-ridden homecoming after being away for her first year of college. Barely minutes into unpacking, she’s confronted with a glaring red message on her mirror stating that someone knows what she did last summer. And thus, we’re taken back in time to that fateful night – graduation night – where everything went wrong for this girl and her classmates Margot (Brianne Tju), Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso), Riley (Ashley Moore), and Dylan (Ezekial Goodman).
Sara Goodman’s writing in the episode shows how layered and complex everything is, but there’s a lot to take in with the massive graduation party and our sudden introduction to the characters in this chaos. And the edits back and forth as each layer gets unpacked on this fateful night were, at times, too fast for even this critic to catch up with. There isn’t much time to let the info settle. However, by episode’s end, the big bomb gets dropped and will have you hooked.
Moving into the remaining three episodes, we get a lesson in building that suspense. Once the core characters get established in that first episode, it’s easier to settle in for the ride as we watch these kids try to figure out who is coming after them. What really assists in how compelling each character is on screen and how much time we get to spend with them. The benefit of a series format over a film.
Iseman has the challenge of playing twins but manages to incorporate distinctive subtle notes and behaviors that allow the audience to easily know which sister we’re seeing onscreen. Brianne Tju’s Margot is emotional, vulnerable, attention-seeking, and desperate for love. Ezekial Goodman’s, Sebastian Amoruso’s, and Ashley Moore’s characters are the least fleshed out beyond the archetypes they embody, but all pack nuance in their performance that makes us care. The performances combined with the layers we get to unravel with each episode make us look beyond the impressions developed from that introductory episode.
Now, for the kills. Because, as we all know, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is going to have some kills. From what we get to see on and off-screen, the team was 100% ready to go, though I do wager that COVID restrictions made it more difficult to execute certain scenes. The first major post-graduation night kill viewers get to see really sets the stakes for both the characters and the viewers. And, until we reach the end of Episode 4, there is a pattern as to who is being targeted. By Episode 4, though, the rug gets swept from underneath the feet. I remember yelling with the reveal at the end of Ep. 4 knowing that I had no more episodes to watch. This is a testament to the suspense the team wove into the screenplay, but also how easily it became to invest once that tone and flow were established.
One element that should not be left out is the setting. In the horror and thriller genres, when we read something about a seaside town, we generally think of something North Eastern, with a Lovecraftian influence. Or a fishing village, which generally has this more down-to-earth visual feel. However, for this particular iteration of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, the team moved the setting to the state of Hawaii. It does look like they filmed on the island of Oahu. Moving the backdrop to what Americans have culturally come to associate with vacation, relaxation, and paradise takes on an entirely different twist. This seaside venue, so beautifully captured by Cinematographer Anka Malatynska, remains unchanged in the midst of the slow-building horror that is taking hold of this island community. Horror in Paradise. What could possibly be sweeter?
Overall, from the first four episodes that have been made available, I do think the series is an entertaining investment. The characters onscreen are complicated intriguing and, with each episode, viewers will get to unpeel the layers and dig deeper into the secrets everyone holds. There may be some viewers who are turned off by the “extra” quality of certain story elements. Because, at times, things get a little raunchy, a little extra, and over-the-top. For this critic, that didn’t detract. With this latest adaptation of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, it’s a different twist on a familiar premise. If you are going in expecting it to be a replica of the 1997 film, you’ll be disappointed. If you go in with an open mind to see how this premise can be revisited, I think you might have a blast. All I know is I am hooked – no pun intended.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, October 15, with new episodes airing each Friday following, leading up to the season finale on November 12.
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