Meanderings on I Know What You Did Last Summer

I feel like I can't start this post without saying two things. First: the majority of this post was written pre-election. That feels important for some reason. It might not be, but I wanted to say it, so I did. Deal with it. Second: there are spoilers (kind of), for those of you who have somehow gone 14 years without seeing I Know What You Did Last Summer but want to, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. (If you haven't seen it yet, just do it. Please. I mean, I Know is pretty predictable, but..???)


I used to be a list maniac. Like, by the time I left for college, I had an entire notebook that was filled with lists. Favorite songs. Favorite song lyrics. Favorite smells. Favorite life moments. Favorite albums. Favorite movies. Lists of all the albums I owned, plus their track listings. Lists of all the books I owned. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer was my first favorite movie, and it was my #1 favorite movie all throughout high school. Up until I Know…, I didn’t have favorites, really. There were movies that I really liked, but there wasn't one that was my favorite. Scream came out the year before, and I liked it a lot, but it didn’t do for me what I Know… did. 

First of all, I Know… was a book first. And I had read it. It wasn’t my favorite book. The cover and the premise were scarier than the actual story. 

For those who aren’t familiar, I Know… is about a group of teenagers who accidentally hit and kill someone with a car. Instead of calling the police or an ambulance, the teens dispose of the body and vow to never talk about it again. In the film, nearly a year after the incident, someone begins stalking and murdering all the teens who were involved. In the book, I remember the menace being mostly a metaphor for their guilty consciences, which was very disappointing to me. I wanted action, I wanted vengeance, I wanted blood. I didn’t want the moral to be, “Don’t hit someone with your car and then dispose of the still-alive body because your guilty conscience will never leave you alone.” I wanted the moral to be, “Don’t hit someone with your car and then dispose of the still-alive body because someone’s going to come back and kill your ass, and rightfully so.” 


Back then, I adored Ryan Phillippe. His character, Barry, was the dickish aggressive jock who started to become a nicer human being (kind of), and then he got murdered. (Oops, spoiler. Sorry.) 

I can’t really remember what else made me love the movie. It took place in a New England fishing town, which I think I liked. Ryan Phillippe/Barry was cute. Maybe I liked the idea that such unlikeable people (Barry, in particular) could possibly change — right before they were murdered, of course — but nevertheless, they could change. That's what made their deaths tragic. 


Now, when I watch I Know… Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character, Helen, is my favorite. She’s a beauty queen (literally) who had big dreams of moving to New York City to become an actress. Those plans didn’t work out, and she finds herself back home, working at her sister’s shop and preparing to hand last year's beauty queen crown over to her successor. Helen is supposed to be vain and shallow, but Gellar plays her with nuance. Underneath the vanity and supposed vapidness, there’s a sadness to Helen, and when it comes time for her to die, she fucking fights to the last breath. Helen’s death is the one I mourn the most. 


The two main characters who survive — Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) — are the most annoying to me. Julie’s judgy self-righteousness, and Ray’s wide-eyed earnestness are so off-putting.

At the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where the four sit around a bonfire on the beach and tell a scary story about a murderer with a hook for a hand. After the storytelling, the couples pair off: Helen and Barry, Julie and Ray. Helen and Barry fully embrace their sexual selves and make out next to the bonfire in full firelight. Julie and Ray sneak off to a shadowy cave, where they exchange cheesy words of love (Ray says, “Did you know that the success rate of high school relationships is higher than any others?” then Julie says, “Oh yeah? Cite your source.” And then Ray puts Julie’s hand on his heart. BARF.) and then bashfully have sex for the first time. 

I do appreciate that there is an attempt at a self-aware, feminist lens in Julie, though, especially in the pre-accident scenes. She calls out Barry’s sexism, and delivers a screed on tales used to “scare girls out of having pre-marital sex.” That all ends with the accident.

And even though both Helen and Julie have sex, only one of them lives — the modest, self-righteous one. 


Folks of color, where are they at? They’re nowhere. Julie has a Black roommate, who tells her that she needs to “get some sun on that pasty tail.” Because Julie looks like death at that point in the film, to be honest. 

And that is the end of any folks of color in the film. 


I imagine that the soundtrack was what some might refer to as "hip," if only for this: 

And I won't lie. I loved this song then, and I still love it now. It feels like a summer song, and it also feels slightly creepy? I don't know, maybe that's just the I Know What You Did Last Summer context talking to me.


At the end of the day, the moral of the story is: don’t murder someone, intentionally or unintentionally, and then try to cover it up. Your guilty conscience, literally and/or metaphorically, will come for you. 

Also, be prudish about sex. You can have sex if you want, but be cool about it, I guess. 

And even though you might be a voice of dissent in your group of murderer-friends, but you still go along with the whole thing and don’t tell anyone, you should still be self-righteous about the whole thing. 

And definitely find your courage by spinning in a circle and yelling, “What are you waiting for?” into the trees.