It’s useful to watch something truly dreadful once in a while: if only to recalibrate your sensibilities so you don’t devolve into one of those freaks still screaming about The Last Jedi on Twitter six years after the fact, or the pack currently baying for the blood of Halloween Kills. A really terrible work is a great corrective, and reminds us that films and series that are merely bad or not to our personal taste are not worth devoting a whole lot of emotional runtime to. So, in that sense, Amazon’s new horror show (in every meaning of the word) I Know What You Did Last Summer has some utility.
Based on the 1997 teen slasher of the same name, which is celebrating its 24th anniversary as I write this, and in turn the 1973 YA novel by Lois Duncan, this latest iteration takes the same basic premise: a group of young friends accidentally kill someone in a car accident and cover up the deed, only to be stalked by a mystery figure one year down the track who, well, knows what they did last summer.
It isn’t long before the bodies start piling up, and our nominal heroine, Lennon (Madison Iseman), needs to figure out who the killer is before she finds herself decapitated with a dumbbell or infested with brain-eating spiders (all other considerations aside, the kills are generally creative).
Except Lennon isn’t Lennon, she’s Alison: Iseman is playing polar opposite twins, good girl Alison and bad girl Lennon, and it’s Lennon who was killed in the car accident. For reasons which never make much sense, Alison is forced to pose as Lennon after the crash, with all involved cobbling together the cover story that Alison ran away from home.
If all that sounds like a plotline too daft for daytime drama, you’re not wrong, and I Know What You Did Last Summer is only just getting started. Showrunner Sara Goodman apparently decided that what the world really needed wasn’t a slasher series but a sexed-up soap opera, and so what we have here is tangled, torrid tale of a lot of attractive, awful people being horrible to each other, with the occasional murder dropped in to justify the title.
Perhaps ‘The Young and the Vacuous’ might have been a better one. IKWYDLS really feels more like a dumbed-down riff on Euphoria than a redux of the old post-Scream also-ran, with a full complement of sex, drugs, trauma, intergenerational angst, and even some eating disorders and self-harm dropped in for good measure.
Which might sound like a recipe for a good time if you’re a fan of trash TV, but no amount of scandalous behaviour is enough to save the series from being dishwater-dull. It doesn’t matter that Alison’s hunky dad (Bill Heck) is being pegged by the local police chief (Fiona Rene), or that teen football star Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso) is banging the very married head coach if these story elements don’t actually add anything in terms of plot, character, or theme. They’re just kind of there, daring the viewer to be shocked. Perhaps the intent is to subvert the genre by putting the focus more on sex than violence, which is admirable, but the execution is lacking.
It also doesn’t help that none of the characters are particularly interesting, let alone likable. Efforts have been made to give them shading, but none really land. Rich girl Margot (Brianne Tju) has a stage mum and an eating disorder. Poor girl Riley (Ashley Moore) deals drugs to try and bootstrap herself out of poverty to maintain a higher position in the teen social hierarchy. Creepy, lovelorn softboi Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman) is a creepy, lovelorn softboi.
But everyone’s so narcissistic and toxic that it’s impossible to care; even the vicarious thrill of seeing terrible people get chopped up, a staple of the slasher subgenre, is muted.
Two elements do stand out as worth noting. For one thing, I Know What You Did Last Summer gets top marks for representation (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s effortlessly diverse). It’s a notably queer show, even if it does butcher its most prominently queer character right off the bat, and different characters hook up in different combinations to such a degree that its simpler to consider almost everyone onscreen pansexual unless proven otherwise. For another, it’s set in Hawaii, so the scenery is nice.
That’s it. That’s your lot. Shrill, grating, endlessly impressed with its own attempts at transgression but ultimately hollow and boring, I Know What You Did Last Summer isn’t just bad TV—it’s embarrassing.