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I'LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (2006)

"The only way we pull this off, is if we stick together and keep it a secret. It dies with us."






  Director:
 
Sylvain White

  Starring: 
Brooke Nevin, Ben Easter, Torrey DeVitto, David Paetkau, K.C. Clyde, Seth Packard, Michael Flynn, Clayton Taylor

  Screenplay: 
Michael Weiss

Synopsis:  On the 4th July, in the small town of Broken Ridge, Colorado, Amber (Brooke Nevin) and Colby (David Paetkau) terrify their companions with the legend of The Fisherman, who each year on that day dons rain hat and slicker and kills teenagers with his hook. The friends wander through the carnival until they meet Lance (Ben Easter), who is working one of the booths. There is friction between Lance and Colby over Amber. P.J. (Clayton Taylor), who is Lance’s cousin and the son of Sheriff Davis (Michael Flynn), joins the group and excitedly announces that he is joining the Marines. He then poses for a photograph with Zoë (Torrey DeVitto). As Amber raises her camera, a shadow looms up behind her. A girl points and screams as a figure in a rain slicker rips its way through a canvas awning with its deadly hook. Panic breaks out, as the teenagers shriek and run. Colby ends up nursing a bloody arm. P.J. runs for some nearby stairs and is next seen on a roof, where he defends himself with his skateboard when the mysterious figure attacks him. A crowd gathers below and, as Sheriff Davis and Deputy John Hafner (K.C. Clyde) run for the rooftop, P.J. stuns those watching by skating down the roof edge and leaping off. Amber, Colby and Zoë run for the car park, where a figure emerges from the shadows....and there are cheers and applause as Roger (Seth Packard) sheds his rain hat. The four friends laugh hysterically at the success of their prank – until Amber notices that P.J. hasn’t joined them. The four go looking for him, and find instead a sombre crowd, flashing sirens, and the mattresses that were supposed to break P.J.’s fall. They stare in horrified disbelief at the body of their friend, impaled upon a tractor parked below the building, as Lance tries vainly to comfort his uncle.... The four gather in the woods some distance from the town where, after a bitter argument, they finally agree to say nothing about their part in the tragedy. Colby hurls the hook into the lake, while Roger burns the rest of the evidence.... At a party held on the 1st July the following year, Amber is mortified to discover that Colby has returned from California without bothering to let her know. When she tries to speak to him, he rebuffs her. That evening, Amber parks at a spot overlooking the town to try and sort out her feelings, and is startled by the sudden appearance of Deputy Hafner, who tells her that if she has anything on her mind, she can always confide in him. She answers evasively and returns home, where she finds a note from her parents, who are away for the weekend. Amber makes an effort to concentrate on her photographic work, but is distracted from it by a picture of P.J. Later, Amber wakes from a nightmare about P.J. convinced that she has heard a noise downstairs. She searches, but finds nothing....until her mobile phone signals the receipt of a text message. Amber checks it, and finds not one, but fifty messages, all from a blocked address, and all saying the same thing: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

Comments:  It’s embarrassing to admit it, but when I heard that the long-promised, long-delayed sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer was finally being released, I was actually rather excited. Most of the franchises I’ve dealt with on this site I have come to well after the event; now, for once, I was going to be there at the critical moment: when sequel became trilogy. Moreover, although it is entirely perverse of me to feel this way, I was all the more excited in light of my love-hate relationship with I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Well---- I suppose “love-hate” isn’t quite the right way to describe it. It’s more like “love-utterly despise right down into the very depths of my being”. Realistically, I knew that there was very little chance of this second sequel matching, let alone surpassing, the stupidity of its immediate predecessor, which is breathtaking in both scope and magnitude. Still....a girl can’t help but hope; and when I found the DVD of I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer lying in the ex-rental discard bin outside my local video store, I couldn’t suppress a quiver of anticipation. 

Yes. Well. We wouldn’t be horror fans if we didn’t learn early on to cope with disappointment, would we? In fact, it’s probably not too much to say that the true horror fan is defined by the extent to which he or she expects the worst in any given situation. The “worst”, in this case, is that I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is neither good enough to be genuinely entertaining nor bad enough to win its own measure of fame, but merely an exercise in mediocrity. Taking to heart the b-movie truism that any sequel should simply be the same film all over again, IAKWYDLS is essentially an undeclared re-make of I Know What You Did Last Summer. Oh, they shuffle the deck a little, granted, but most of the cards are here; and there is something rather sickly amusing about watching chunks of that not exactly stellar piece of film-making being studiously “homaged” in just the way we expect for films like Alien or Jaws or The Terminator. The pity of this is that you do get the sense that someone, at some time, did at least want to try and do something a bit better here, but that in the end, they lost their nerve. The result is a film so familiar as to be utterly pointless – except in one detail. There is a twist here, a single hesitant attempt at originality; and that is all that stands between this production and its instant consignment to complete obscurity.

Everyone's a comedian....

IAKWYDLS opens seven years down the track from Ben Willis’s unsatisfactory rampage in the Bahamas, and about as far from Ben’s previous stamping grounds as possible: in the mountains of Colorado. (“Broken Ridge” is played by Park City, Utah: evidently, when it isn’t hosting highbrow film festivals, it’s hosting lowbrow film productions. It’s a full, rich life.) High on the Ferris-wheel of their town’s carnival, Amber and Colby frighten their gullible friends with the tale of “The Fisherman”, who every July 4th appears in his slicker and rain hat, and kills teenagers with the hook he bears in place of his hand....teenagers with “dirty little secrets”. In the best urban legend tradition, Colby goes on to explain, not that he knows something, but that he knows someone who knows someone who.... “and two kids never made it out of the woods”. As this goes on, we are further introduced to the rest of the gang: Zoë, who is Amber’s best friend; P.J., the son of the sheriff, who is on the verge of joining the marines; and Lance, who is P.J.’s cousin and this film’s stand-in for Max Neurick, the working-class outsider with a thing for the heroine. A flurry of photo taking follows, and while Amber lines up a shot, an ominous shape looms up behind a nearby canvas awning and uses its hook to rip its way through....

“It’s him! It’s The Fisherman!” cries Zoë. Screaming and panic follows, with the friends stampeding through the bemused carnival-goers bellowing, “There’s a killer on the loose!” P.J. breaks away and heads for a set of stairs, and is next seen on the roof of a nearby car-park, trying to fend off the hook-handed figure with his skateboard. He breaks away from his attacker, leaps onto his skateboard, then skates right down the sloping roof of the building and leaps off....

The watching crowd shrieks in horrified disbelief. Sheriff Davis and his deputy, John Hafner, run frantically for the roof. Amber, Colby and Zoë flee into the car-park itself, where a rain-slickered figure emerges from the darkness, and....does a little dance.

And, yes, it’s all been a practical joke. And if anyone can explain to me the point of it, I’d be mighty grateful.

You heard him.

I have, granted, an ongoing difficulty seeing “the point” of any practical joke, but this one seems to me even more asinine than usual. Wow, they’ve frightened some people and convinced a terrified father that his son’s life is being threatened. How very clever. How very funny. And you know what the kicker is? – it turns out there is no “legend of The Fisherman”: they made it up. I think. Or maybe they didn’t. Having chosen to base their whole film on this detail, you’d think that Sylvain White and Michael Weiss would at least be clear in their own minds about that, but the information provided is flat out confusing. Roger, waving his hook – “$39.00 on eBay!” – claims that it is “the real hook, straight from the legend”; while later on, when Amber tells Lance where they got the idea for “that damn prank”, the story she tells is simply that of Ben Willis and his two murder sprees, no “legend” about it.

At this point, this film wasn’t endearing itself to me, exactly.

It does pick up, however, in the next few moments, as the kids realise that P.J. hasn’t been seen since his leap off the roof. They head out looking for him, and find instead a milling crowd of appalled on-lookers (well, “appalled”: check out the grinning girl, and the guy copping a feel!), some emergency vehicles, and a lot of flashing lights; and Colby gets to utter one of the most delightfully bathetic lines in the history of the horror film:

Who moved the mattresses?

Yes, that’s right: evidently, having agreed to jump off a roof as part of this “joke”, P.J. proceeded to do so without checking first that there was something in place to break his fall....

The kids move slowly towards the point of the crowd’s focus, past the displaced mattresses (mattresses, hell! – they’re gym mats!), and see in their place a small tractor; a tractor with a vertical exhaust; a vertical exhaust on which P.J. has impaled himself....

"Who moved the mattresses...?"

A little later, the four conspirators are in the woods outside town, agonising over their situation and arguing over whether or not to confess their part in P.J.’s death. And I guess we all know how that turns out, right? Colby throws the hook into a lake, while the rest of Roger’s costume gets burnt; and the kids agree that, yes, “This dies with us....”

The practical joke that goes wrong is one of the staples of the slasher genre, but usually in the sense that there is a victim on the end of it who survives – just – to go on a rampage of revenge, as in films like The Burning and Terror Train. This is a more unusual example of someone being hoist with their own petard. Although what they have done is unspeakably cruel and stupid, the four surviving jokers are no more responsible for P.J.’s death than he is himself; and considering that he was evidently quite prepared to terrify his own father in pursuit of this so-called “joke”, you could say that P.J. was the most culpable of the group. (I keep envisioning an alternative version of this film in which Sheriff Davis, seeing in son in deadly danger, simply shoots the guy in the rain slicker.)

Nevertheless, despite the fatal outcome, which I suppose would entail criminal consequences – public nuisance occasioning death, would it be? – morally, these kids are light years away from their predecessors of I Know What You Did Last Summer, who start out with near vehicular manslaughter and rapidly progress to attempted murder – or, as far as they know, to murder. The real crime here, which is one of the more interesting aspects of this film, is not the initial act, but the fact that by concealing the truth, the kids allow a year’s energy and resources and, in the case of Sheriff Davis, personal anguish to be wasted in the hunt for a killer who doesn’t exist. And this in turn means that, the following July, when Amber starts getting text messages telling her that I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, the kids end up looking for the person responsible amongst the members of the local police force.... 

"Hey, kewl! - that guy just fell to his horrible bloody death!" "Shut up and kiss me!"

This section of the film sees IAKWYDLS copying its model with embarrassing exactitude. First, we learn that all of the relationships between the characters have fallen apart. Amber has rebuffed all of Zoë’s overtures of continuing friendship; Colby hasn’t spoken to his buddy, Roger, during the intervening year, and has broken up with Amber – although without bothering to tell her; and Roger, who was the first to propose covering up the truth of P.J.’s death, proves the least able to deal with the consequences of his actions: isolating himself from everyone, he lives in a lonely haze of self-destructive guilt.

Then Amber gets her text messages revealing that someone knows the truth of P.J.’s death, and again we go through some very familiar paces: the two girls reconnect first (in lieu of a straightforward, “I miss you”, we get, “What are you going to say next, that you miss me?”); Colby, the Barry Cox stand-in, behaves as you’d expect, like a butthole; and Lance, lurking on the sidelines with unrequited feelings for Amber, morphs into a kind of pseudo-Ray Bronson, the seemingly nice guy who maybe, just maybe, shouldn’t be trusted.... 

And then the persecution starts. Colby, who is working as a lifeguard at the local pool, returns to his seat after blowing off Zoë’s attempt to talk to him about their situation to find the words I KNOW WHAT YOU DID written in water on the concrete by the edge of the pool; they evaporate before his eyes. Amber, out mountain-biking, stops to take a photograph and returns to her bike to find the tyres slashed. She carries on to the top of the ski lift, where a technician allows her to ride down in a gondola. In the time that her trip takes, a storm builds and darkness falls; and from that darkness appears a rain-slickered figure that smashes one window of the gondola with its hook before vanishing.

During this attack the panicked Amber knocks her camera off the seat, which as it hits the floor takes a series of shots automatically; and this highly improbable event leads to perhaps my favourite moment in the film, as Amber tries to convince her friends that she was in fact attacked, and that the blurry object in her photographs is in fact the hook. I mean, good lord! – are they actually riffing on Jaws 2 here!?

Meanwhile, poor Roger has reached the limit of his endurance. Full of booze and pills, he decides on suicide, using the infamous $39.00 hook (which, we gather, he retrieved from the lake) to slash his wrists – only to stop because he hears a noise in the next room (!?). As you’ve probably guessed, Roger then gets his “suicide” whether he really wants it or not, but not before suffering the indignity of being this film’s Bridgette Wilson, and playing hide-and-seek with a killer who likes to lurk under plastic sheeting.

The other three show up shortly afterwards and find Roger lying dead with his throat gashed open. In his room is his slightly premature suicide note and his hook, mysteriously returned to the shipping box in which Roger kept it (and which is postmarked from the Bahamas; nice touch). The three are themselves caught there by Deputy Hafner, who rather disbelievingly learns that Roger’s “friends” knew nothing of his twelve month downward spiral: “The fights? The failing classes? The anti-depressants?” Roger’s death is accepted as a suicide (he’s found lying next to a bloody circular saw) and, dismissed, the other three head for Amber’s house, deciding on the way that it was Roger who responsible for the messages and the attack on Amber. Except that, when they get there, they find that someone has broken in and shredded Amber’s collection of photographs, scattering their remains all over the stairs and the floor of her bedroom, and leaving only a few pieces, pictures of Amber’s friends, that in collage spell out the word SOON. And Roger, of course, was already dead when it happened....

And so the guessing games start, with Colby first accusing Lance to his face, and then leaving Sheriff Davis a threatening note of his own – WE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING THIS SUMMER – and the three guilty parties agonising over whether they dare trust John Hafner with the truth. In the course of this, both Lance and Hafner get to utter those immortal words, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. And then the bodies start piling up....

Well – I did say that IAKWYDLS has one original touch, one single plot twist that it doesn’t steal from one of its predecessors. So it does, and in tribute to that, I feel compelled to make the following public service announcement:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Because, after all, it wouldn’t be fair to ruin the one surprise that this film manages to produce, in the midst of all of its slavish copying.

Namely, the identity of its killer.

Who is....

Who is....

....you’re not going to believe this....

Who is....

....Ben Willis....

No, really.

Hey, I just said it was original; I didn’t say it made sense.

And why should an undead Ben Willis be running around Broken Ridge, Colorado, in his rain hat and slicker? Well – you got me. The film never bothers to explain. We’re just left to infer that, Candyman-like, the convergence of elements – the death, the cover-up, the July 4th timing – has summoned ol’ Ben back from the grave in which we left him mouldering eight years earlier; a grave, we might recall, that he dug himself for Julie James, and to which she consigned him with no less than eight bullets.

I guess you really can’t keep a good man down.

I make it two teenagers and seven adults. That must be a Murdoch paper.

The irony is, having made the decision to go with a spectral killer, IAKWYDLS proceeds to do a much better job of setting up a series of potential human suspects than almost any “who-dunnit” slasher film that I can think of, most of which either serve up a killer who is screamingly obvious, or at the last just pull someone out of their butt. Sheriff Davis, Deputy Hafner and Lance are all perfectly legitimate prospects. They have motive – Hafner perhaps less than the other two; but on the other hand, he has such a nice line in meaningful little smiles – and they have opportunity. The section of the film dealing with the kids’ vacillation in the face of these possibilities is actually fairly well done.

As for the supernatural elements, that is, what we belatedly recognise to be the supernatural elements---- Even as P.J. is hoist with his own petard, so too is this entire film; hoist with the petard of being a slasher film in the first place. We’re so used to the impossible happening in these films, even where the killer isn’t overtly undead; to bodies disappearing, to gruesome murders that leave no tell-tale blood, to killers who can pop up just anywhere they need to be.... Consider the car boot scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer: a dead body, crabs, seaweed, sand, all of it gone in a flash without leaving a trace – and that was when Ben Willis was just an ordinary mortal. How, then, are we supposed to infer that the killer in this film is a supernatural being, when he does no more than his corporeal brethren can? We see the water writing by the pool, we see Amber’s tyres slashed when no-one could have done it, and it conveys nothing. Even when Zoë wakes up to find that her guitar has been vandalised and her couch slashed to pieces while she slept on it, it doesn’t say “supernatural”. Why would it, when we’ve already seen Helen Shivers’ hair cut off by a living, breathing Ben Willis? – while she slept.

The critical scene is that in which Amber is attacked on the sky lift. When she tries to tell her friends, Colby jeers, “Attacked in a gondola, fifty feet off the ground!?” As that scene is shot and lit and edited, you can’t tell whether she is fifty feet off the ground or not – and for the life of me, I don’t know whether that was an artistic choice on the part of the director, a deliberate disguising of the facts, or just plain incompetence.

She's no Jennifer Love Hewitt. And I mean that in a nice way.

(I haven’t mentioned the, um, “style” of this film, which is full of flash-cuts, weird angles, double exposures, fades to white and shaky-cam shots, even when there’s no earthly reason why there should be, like in most of the scene-to-scene transitions. I suppose this is a kind of technological progress: whereas we used to have records that played at thirty-three revolutions per minute, now we have films that play at thirty-three edits per minute; or forty-five; or seventy-five.... Lord, spare me.)

But before the big revelation, we spend more time copying the earlier films. Knowing his life is in danger, Colby swims laps in a pool with the lights out – Barry Cox got attacked at the gym, remember? – and ends up not with his arm in a sling, but getting hooked through the ankle. In place of the Croaker Queen pageant, we have “The 1st Annual Broken Ridge Talent Show”, in which wannabe rocker Zoë insists on performing. Then the killing starts in earnest, with the list of potential victims expanded to include Lance who, it turns out, knew about the “joke” beforehand (P.J. told him), but said nothing afterwards because he has a thing for Amber, and also John Hafner, to whom poor Roger confessed shortly before his death, but who discouraged him from going public because he also has a thing for Amber. (Girl gets around.)

Zoë is the first to go, having just given her details to “an agent from L.A.!” – such being well-known for hanging out at talent shows in pissant little mountain towns. Colby, Amber and Lance end up being pursued around the bowels of “the Lodge” where the talent show is being held: the biggest, darkest, most convoluted community centre ever. Colby gets his in the kitchen, after getting trapped behind a door that he cannot open, despite the fact that it is locked on his side. (I’d love to think this was a reference to Deadly Invasion, which is the last film I saw with a similar dilemma, and where one of the parties involved is – heh! – Ryan Phillipe.) John Hafner is gruesomely disposed of by being hooked first and then rammed onto the blades of a fork-lift truck, conveniently parked outside “the Lodge”.

I am torn between "Why should it? Nothing happened in the previous sixty-six" and "120....119....118...."

And in the midst of all of this, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer blows it – totally blows it. Because in the midst of all of this, we have the pointless body count murder of – Sheriff Davis.

What were they thinking!? Or rather, what were they not thinking? Did it occur to no-one connected with this film that the right way to end it would have been to have Davis – the father – the victim – the one truly innocent party in all of this – be the only one able to take out the undead Ben Willis? That would have worked; that would have given this silly film a touch of distinction. But, no: poor Sheriff Davis ends his year of misery by being hooked through the shoulder and hauled off into the darkness. Big whoop-de-doo.

So that leaves Julie and Ray---- I mean, Amber and Lance. They figure out that, “We can hurt him!” – but only with a hook – that is, with Roger’s hook – “the one from the legend”, remember? Being shot and/or run over barely slows Undead Ben down, but being hooked in the arm makes him shriek and bleed a nasty black ichor. They try to lay a trap for him in a storage warehouse full of farm equipment, but pesky ol’ Ben now has the ability to teleport from spot to spot – of course – and eludes their dangling hook. Amber does manage to hook him through the foot, though, and he howls and vanishes. Amber and Lance then run out of that warehouse, and into another warehouse; they lock the front door, then run out the back door, which is left wide open. Eh?

Ben appears, and as he and Lance duel with hooks – at which Lance sucks, by the way; is there anything in the world more useless than a guy at the conclusion of a slasher film? – Amber boards a nearby truck, a soil tiller. Lance loses his hook and gets his thigh ripped open (Ben really does have supernatural powers: he somehow manages not to sever Lance’s femoral artery), but as Ben – slowly – moves in for the kill, Amber manages (mostly by slapping at the controls in an embarrassingly girly way) to get the tiller going. Instead of just killing Lance, which he could have done with no particular inconvenience to himself, Ben teleports over and rips the door off the tiller and drags Amber out of it – but doesn’t turn it off. As Ben hauls Amber around, Lance hits him from behind, and then empties a hand gun, which he took from Hafner’s car, into him. It doesn’t hurt him, but it does distract him. He lets Amber go and turns back towards Lance, raising his hook. This frees Amber to grab her hook and plunge it into the top of Ben’s head. He shrieks again and staggers around helplessly, allowing Amber the chance to....push him into the soil tiller....

Ew. 

That Lance - what a kidder!

Cut to Lance in an ambulance, and Amber outdoing Julie James, by telling a hitherto unseen police person that the guy they fought for their lives against was the same one who drove P.J. to his death the year before. (Uh---- What, exactly, do the cops find on the tiller blades?) “He won’t bother anybody again,” she insists, and if that ain’t the cue for a stupid kicker ending, well, I don’t know what is.

Sure enough.... “One year later....” As Amber talks to Lance on the phone while driving through the middle of nowhere (okay, Nevada), her tyre blows out. Only it isn’t just a puncture: it’s ripped. Amber pulls over to inspect the damage. You’d think that Little Miss Freelance Photography would have learned how to change a tyre before this, but no: her plan seems to be to just stand there until someone who can help her drives past. So she stands there – and stands there – and stands there – until....

Oh, well. I guess it’s marginally less stupid than the ending of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

Which is exactly the problem with this film. It isn’t stupid enough; not enough to be really entertaining. Nor does it take the chances that present themselves to strike out on its own and do something different – and, by the way, having an undead killer does not count as “different”; not after twenty-six years of Jason Voorhees. The end result is pretty blah. So too is the cast. David Paetkau is here to be a dick, so it’s hardly fair to blame him for succeeding. Torrey DeVitto is quite good as Zoë, but the character is irritating. Brooke Nevin tries hard, but without succeeding in making Amber’s journey from “good girl” to ass-kicking Final Girl remotely convincing. Ben Easter and K.C. Clyde probably come out of this the best as, respectively, Lance and John Hafner; the two them at least manage to put a bit of ambiguity into their characterisations.

And what does the future hold for Ben Willis? Nothing, would seem to be the short answer – but really, why should the fact that this formula has been flogged to death and has nowhere left to go stop anyone from making a fourth film? After all, we live in a world that contains six Leprechaun films, seven Children Of The Corn films, nine Amityville films, and thirteen Witchcraft films. Quite frankly, I see no reason at all why the adventures of Ben Willis shouldn’t be dragged out through another two or three episodes at least.

Anyway....a girl can’t help but hope....

Footnote:  So much for this film’s “Big Revelation”.... I don’t know what the rest of the world got, but the Region 4 DVD release of I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer has on its back cover a nice clear close-up of Undead Ben. I can only assume it’s the work of the same person who designed the DVD cover for the original Planet Of The Apes....

 
 
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----posted 01/10/2007