I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Kevin Williamson's I Know What You Did Last Summer is much more modest than his masterpiece Scream in many ways, but it is on an equal level in terms of quality.
The story concerns four young adults--two couples--who have just graduated from high school and who are enjoying their summer together before some head off to college and others head off to pursue careers. On the way home from a romantic beach get-together, they accidentally hit a man who happened to be on a curving, hilly, road at just the wrong time. They panic and dump his body. A year later, someone is sending them letters saying that they know about the crime they committed. The threats increase and the protagonists have more to worry about than when they first initiated this series of events.
That's the premise, based on a novel by Lois Duncan, and like much about I Know What You Did Last Summer, it is disarmingly simple. The brilliant, quaint, simple fishing village sets and locations here--a real town, Southport, in North Carolina, plus the small cast make this film seem almost like a play. That brings an intimacy which, along with all the other disarming elements, make the terror hit that much closer to home when it arrives, and make this a truly scary movie.
The principal cast--Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze, Jr.--are all superb, as are all the supporting actors. Director Jim Gillespie has to make the unfortunate choice of either keeping the intimate atmosphere by focusing on the four leads (ultimately the right choice) or giving the excellent support more screen time.
The direction gets the most out of the cast. Although the setting is Southport, IKWYDLS could be in anytown, USA; the features are generic enough to any small-town setting. And the editing is exemplary, as is the score. There isn't a lot of gore or special effects here, but what there is works right--like a fine wine with great pasta.
There is also a meticulous attention to detail throughout IKWYDLS that isn't always evident upon first viewing. From the creepy generic nature of the letters to the view of the "Shivers" store sign (which is enabled by the clever naming of Gellar's character, Helen Shivers) at just the right time to smooth subtle transitions such as the gradual camera close-up to the town hall stage, when the lights turn on behind a see-through screen on stage at just the right time to reveal Gellar and Philippe.
Even more exemplary is the color scheme, which is achieved through a combination of lighting, cinematography and set design. Gillespie, cinematographer Dennis Crossan and production designer Gary Wissner focus on a narrow palette, consisting primarily of earth tones and blues. It gives the film almost a fairy-tale, otherworldly look that sets the perfect atmosphere and backdrop for the events to ensue.
Still, IKWYDLS is a horror film, a slasher film specifically, and delivers exquisite thrills in a way that makes this one of the finest examples yet of the slasher film genre. While the ending is a bit predictable, not everyone makes it to the end that you might expect to make it, and the door is left open to the sequel with the same meticulous detail as the rest of the film. Don't miss this one.