The newest iteration of I Know What You Did Last Summer is fueled by a compelling idea, but crashes pretty quickly. The YA thriller aims to be kitschy, like the early seasons of Riverdale, but comes off as a rocky mix between that, Pretty Liars Liars (the killer frequently sends taunting texts to the core friend group), and Euphoria (moody lighting and glittery makeup galore).
The show is inspired by Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel and the subsequent 1997 film of the same name. The first two movies of the franchise, led by Jennifer Love-Hewitt, helped revitalize the slasher genre in the late ’90s along with the Scream franchise. The TV adaptation does nothing of the sort; it’s not as campy, slick, or even as clever as it wants to be.
IKWYDLS moves into the 21st century with characters of color and sexually fluid teens. However, the show treats inclusivity as a checklist; the writing and most performances are frustratingly one-note. Changing the setting to the small Hawaiian town of Wai Huna doesn’t add much depth, even if it’s clear the residents are harboring quite a few secrets.
The series follows twin sisters Lennon and Allison (Madison Iseman, pulling double duty). They’re polar opposites and constantly fighting because of it: Lennon is wild and popular, while Allison is the social outcast. And they grew further apart after their mother’s death by suicide a few years ago. The tug-of-war between their two personalities is the only potent and moving aspect of the series.
The premiere kicks off with an intense party on graduation night. Lennon and Allison have a complicated fight resulting in them storming off with friends—well, Lennon’s friends—in tow. These pals include Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman), Margot (Brianne Tju), Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso), and Riley (Ashley Moore). As in the film, the teens accidentally crash into someone on the highway. Instead of calling the cops, they dispose of the body and promise to never tell a soul. The twist is the person who was run over isn’t a stranger, but someone closer to home. A year later, the group is now being tormented by an axe-wielding murderer who is seeking revenge for, yes, what they did last summer.
The only notable upgrade is that the show is bloodier and has more creative crime scenes than the movie. Otherwise, IKWYDLS is a humdrum mystery that barely sends any shockwaves and gets bogged down by slow-moving subplots with the adults, like Allison and Lennon’s dad, Bruce (Bill Heck), who is involved with local cop, Lyla (Fiona Rene).
All the teens stick to their respective archetypes: Margot is a clichéd social media addict who loves using the phrase “high-key”; Dylan is the broody and intelligent type; Johnny is the kind, gay friend. The show’s repetitive writing makes it clear to the audience that none of these characters will go beyond their defining traits, with no meaningful evolution or insight into any of the characters or their relationships.
As the de facto lead, Iseman is the only one to benefit from slightly more fleshed-out roles than the rest of her castmates. The actor does her best to bring grit to Lennon and Allison. Moore also works hard to give Riley, the group’s drug-dealing friend, some depth, but there’s only so much the actors can do with a hackneyed script. Tju is a more experienced member of the young cast, but is saddled with the limited descriptors that don’t let her talent shine through.
The flawed execution extends to the series’ direction and pacing. Unexplained jump cuts make even the premiere difficult to get through. To make matters worse, scenes from this outing are shown repeatedly in future episodes from the perspective of different characters with not nearly enough new context to justify this choice. The attempts to create a moody atmosphere—close-ups of faces, zooming in on creepy crawlies, footage of waves that rivals Big Little Lies—ring hollow.
IKWYDLS even robs viewers of a vital aspect of any slasher product: witnessing most of the kills. Half the fun of the 1997 film was watching the murderer go on a rampage with the tool at his disposal. Thrillers of this sort wouldn’t be memorable without getting to see Ghostface, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger in their element. The show’s version of the hook-wielding Ben Willis enjoys decapitating his victims with an axe instead, but the audience is left in the dark along with the protagonists. Only the most patient and hardcore fans will want to hitch a ride with this uninventive drama.