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'Summer' Time: The Living is Deadly

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 17, 1997

It isnít a "Scream," but "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is another Kevin Williamson triumph, a smart, sharply drawn genre film with a moral center and a solid cast of young actors to hold it. Williamson, who crafted the cleverly parodistic "Scream" out of a genuine affection for horror films, here adapts a popular young adult novel by Lois Duncan, giving it a greater depth, dollops of impending doom and a bit more violence. And first-time Hollywood director Jim Gillespie shows a sure hand (or is that a fishermanís hook?) with both cast and production crew in this very smartly mounted, sharply drawn feature.

Itís midnight on the 4th of July in a small fishing village in North Carolina and four high school pals celebrate on a moonlit beach, telling campfire ghost stories (and suffering each otherís instant revisions). College plans and career dreams beckon brainy Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), brawny jock Barry (Ryan Phillippe), beauty queen Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and ambitious prole Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.). But everything changes on the ride home when they round a dangerous curve and something goes bump in the night. Turns out to be a man, now apparently a dead man.

Because Barryís been drinking and a shattered bottle has drenched the carís innards in booze, the kids realize they face arrest and possible jail time over the accident. After some spirited moral debate about coming clean or covering up, they make an uneasy pact to dump the body off a pier and to keep their silence. "We take this to the grave," Barry says, not realizing how quick and literal that promise might be.

A year later, when itís already clear the four partiesí lives have been irrevocably changed by the incident -- in fact, lifelong friendships have shattered -- conscience-stricken Julie receives an anonymous letter with the simple message "I know what you did last summer." Who wrote the note, what did they see, what do they want? -- those troubling questions reunite the quartet. As each suffers escalating retribution, they try to unmask their fishermanís parka-bedecked, hook-wielding tormentor, who might even be one of them! In the process, they uncover convoluted secrets far more complex than most modern psychological thrillers allow.

Smart like "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer" adopts that filmís casting strategy, with perky Hewitt assuming the same crucial role her "Party of Five" co-star Neve Campbell did in "Scream," augmented by the likable Gellar, star of the television series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Prinze, the son of the late comedian, is cooly effective, handsome in a Keanu Reeves-mode. Anne Heche does a fine turn as a weirded-out relative of the possible hit-and-run victim.

Director Gillespie keeps things moving and anxious, stylishly enlivening the inevitable chase-íem-down sequences, even topping one off in wonderfully Hitchcockian style. Also crucial to the filmís success are production designer Gary Wissner ("Seven") and cinematographer Denis Crossan, who do spooky things with shadow, fog and fishing boats, and composer John Debney, whose foreboding orchestral score is far more effective than the de rigueur rock intrusions.

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (R) ó Contains explicit language, violence and graphic gore.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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