Thursday 3 November 2011

Well, I wasn't hooked

I was socialised in late-nineties pop culture. On the walls of our classroom were posters of Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Marsters and, foolish as that may now seem, Fred Durst. But I wasn't a full participant. I didn't turn thirteen until the year 2000, so even if I had wanted to watch I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998, I couldn't have. (Instead, I sneaked into Godzilla and The Mask of Zorro.) The point is, these films were big in the late nineties (I Know What You Did Last Summer was cited as an example of increasing violence in cinema by people who'd clearly never seen any of the slashers of yore), and Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. were as gods. How are the mighty fallen!

I complained in the very first post on this blog that I Know What You Did Last Summer is a bad film. It also killed off the better half of the cast, so now, a year after the events of the first film, we get to meet a new group of expendable meat. There's still Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), struggling with memories of her friends' brutal murder, and her college friends Karla (Brandy), Julie's sassy black best friend; Karla's jock boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer); and nice guy Will (Matthew Settle; and the fact that within nine years Settle would play a washed-up rock star with two teenage children on Gossip Girl I find both hilarious and telling). Karla and Julie get a call from the local radio station, asking them 'What is the capital of Brazil?'. Having correctly answered 'Rio de Janeiro' (the screenwriter clearly thought their audience was composed of nothing but morons), they win a weekend on the Bahamas. Meanwhile in a subplot, not-quite-dead fisherman Ben Willis (Muse Watson) attacks Julie's boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his colleague Dave (John Hawkes, who is a demigod for this but clearly has some skeletons in his closet), killing Dave and injuring Ray, who vows to find Julie and warn her.

Their hotel turns out to be on a tiny island whose population is solely composed of the following: hotel staff Brooks (Jeffrey Combs) and Nancy (Jennifer Esposito), who were my favourite characters because of their sarcastic detachment and open hostility to the main cast; Estes (Bill Cobbs), a vodou-practising baggage handler (this is less offensive than it seems: apparently, Haitian vodou does exist on the Bahamas, even though it's obviously the pop-culture version of same); weed-growing poolboy Titus (Jack Black); Olga the maid (Ellerine Harding); and finally Darick the Dockhand (Benjamin Brown). Obviously, very few of these people make it out alive as Ben Willis returns to kill teens.

It's a shame that the peripheral characters are slaughtered first, because rarely has a main cast of such unlikeable jackasses been assembled. They're terrible actors, and to make up for it Jennifer Love Hewitt's main asset, prominently displayed on the poster above, is shamelessly exploited throughout the film. I'm also peeved by the film's portrayal of Tyrell, who speaks entirely in stereotypical black people's phrases and of course dies first. (Also, in films there are no interracial relationships. There's always the alpha couple - white, cerebral, decent, and shy - and the beta couple - black, physical, impulse-driven, and sassy - that acts as its Jungian shadow.)

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer's script, perpetrated by Trey Callaway, is even more stupid than Kevin Williamson's screenplay for the original. A big part of this - pretty much series tradition by now - is that the villain, supposedly out for vengeance because Julie and her friends left him for dead two summers ago (and there goes the title), kills people who are neither involved in all that nor are any sort of threat; and this is doubly stupid because the original crime of running over a man and hiding his body is barely mentioned, so that the film, despite its repeated insistence that 'I still know', really becomes more a 'madmen kill because they are mad' feature, i.e. it strains against itself for no good reason. But really it only starts there: there are so many contrivances, plot holes, and frankly laughable choices (Will Benson is stealth) that it's best to ignore the film's narrative structure entirely.

Ah, but if you do that, what's left? Not scares, certainly. I've probably seen more incompetent horror films (the gloriously abysmal Friday the 13th, Part 3, for example), but I Still Know What You Did Last Summer need not hide in such company. Director Danny Cannon (Judge Dredd) does not know how to film horror. Oh, sure, he does a reasonable facsimile of the sort of camerawork the genre uses, but it doesn't work at all. There's nary a striking image, nothing at all unexpected or suspenseful; and the fact that they go over the top with the scare chords and painfully obvious redubbed scared breathing to compensate just seems sad. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is an inferior sequel, and that's saying something.

In this series: I Know What You Did Last Summer | I Still Know What You Did Last Summer | I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer

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