'A piece of Hitchschlock' is how I would describe "I Know What You Did Last Summer", the second feature penned by "Scream" scribe Kevin Williamson (who has probably seen one-too-many 'scary' movies). Whereas "Scream" was fresh with its blend of terror with the nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to overused horror movie conventions, IKWYDLS is typical slasher-fare without the campy narcissistic pretentiousness of its predecessor.
The story begins with four beautiful young brat-packers with great hair celebrating the July 4th holiday, their last summer before heading their separate ways following high school graduation. The voice of reason is Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt of "Party of Five"), a girl with a good heart (which of course means that she'll probably be the only one to survive the ordeal). Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar of TV's syndicated "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is a self-absorbed beauty queen (vanity-- she's toast for sure). Barry (Ryan Phillippe) is the hot-head rich kid who drinks too much (greed and arrogance-- he'll be dead soon). And finally, there is Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a nice poor kid (who is so flatly-characterized, that he must either be expendable or is the killer!). On their way home from a night of partying, they run over a man who wanders onto the road. Fearing the consequences of their actions, they decide to dump the body off a pier and make a vow of silence concerning the accident.
The following summer, things are not going well. Julie has become a morose angry-young-woman. Helen's dreams of an acting career in New York have fizzled out. Ray is working on a boat as a fisherman. And Barry... is just Barry. Though their friendship is strained, they are soon brought together again when they all receive a handwritten note that says "I know what you did last summer". Obviously, their terrible secret is no longer a secret. Is it Max, a guy who likes Julie, and happened to drive by the accident scene that fateful night? Or is it Missy (Anne Heche, last seen in "Volcano"), the off-kilter sister of David Egan, the man that was run over and dumped into the ocean? Or is David Egan still alive? The stakes go up when they are each terrorized by a mysterious stranger and people around them start winding up dead.
It starts of promisingly enough, as a Hitchcockian premise of a what-if-he's-not-really-dead kind of thriller, much like the French suspense classic "Diabolique", but by midway through the second act, it is demoted into mindless slasher fare which eschews common-sense logic in favor of portraying graphically gruesome means of being garroted. The killer, dressed in black rain slicks and a hat, armed with a hook, is hokey at best. The elaborate schemes that he/she/it comes up with to terrorize and kill are unbelievable, such as being able to kill someone without leaving any traces of blood or making a body and a bushel of crabs appear and disappear from the trunk of a car. And when the identity of the killer is finally revealed in the cheesy contrived climax, IKWYDLS shows us what it truly is: a big cheat.
The acting in this picture leaves a lot to be desired. Hewitt's acting ability stretches from looking tired to over-emoting. Prinze is even worse, with his performance earmarked by some stilted delivery of his lines (he kind of reminded me of the brain-dead acting of Keanu Reeves in "Johnny Mnemonic"). In fact, perhaps the only person in this movie that even comes close to decent acting is Geller, who makes the transition from bubbly-air head to terrified slasher-bait (which is not a surprise, since she has an Emmy under her belt).
Mind you, all is not lost in this movie. There are a few scenes that do manage to be scary (the audience I was in jumped out of their seats and gasped loudly on several occasions), though the build-up and tension are not as well-developed as they were in "Scream" (most notably the opening sequence which had Drew Barrymore speaking with a stranger on the phone about 'scary movies'). And though the resolution of the story was a disappointment, the final scene of the movie was a nice surprise, albeit silly.
"I Know What You Did Last Summer" is being marketed as a suspense-thriller, but it really is just another slasher movie, in the vein of the "Friday the 13th" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchises. Though it starts off strongly with an interesting premise, it quickly falls apart into an unsatisfying experience. Yes, you will probably jump out of your seats, but it may be wiser to do it in the safety of your own home when it comes out on video instead of shelling out eight bucks in the theater.