I Know What You Did Last Summer Ended with the Wrong Final Girl

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) received little critical praise upon its release. Following the massive success of Scream one year prior, rather than subvert the classic conventions of the horror genre, the spooky slasher -- loosely based on the novel of the same name -- played into them. While audiences enjoyed the movie, and it has since developed something of a cult following, some horror buffs feel that I Know What You Did Last Summer would benefit from a number of changes, particularly in its choice of final girl.

The film is perhaps director Jim Gillespie's best-known work. And while I Know What You Did Last Summer wasn't his last foray into the horror genre, it was arguably his best. Gillespie's other credits include relatively unknown titles, such as D-Tox and Venom (a mediocre Louisiana-based horror flick in no way related to the Marvel anti-hero). In any case, I Know What You Did Last Summer has mysteriously endured, spawning several sequels and a now-canceled TV spinoff. Regardless, in an era of indie horror and countless reboots, fans wonder whether the solution to a successful revival is an entirely fresh coat of paint or simply a slight re-write.

Set in the seaside town of Southport, North Carolina, four teens' lives are altered forever when -- after a night of drunken fun at a graduation celebration -- they strike and kill a stranger on a dark road. Far from her brief role as the confident Agent Kate Callahan on Criminal Minds, Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Julie James. The smart, considerate, virginal protagonist is ultimately the film's final girl. And her characterization is in stark contrast to Sarah Michelle Gellar's spoiled beauty queen, Helen Shivers.

At the onset, the brutish, angry and perpetually drunk Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe) is dating Helen, while Freddie Prinze Jr. plays Ray Bronson, Julie's loving boyfriend. After the accident occurs, a series of personal and professional failures draw the group back to their hometown the following year, where they soon find themselves stalked and psychologically tortured by a mysterious -- and murderous -- hook-handed man. The couples have split up, and while Barry appears fundamentally unchanged from the experience, the same cannot be said for the rest of them.

Julie, once a star student, is nearly failing out of college. Helen's big dreams of stardom are dashed after her move to New York implodes; she's now working in her father's department store, under her awful older sister's authority. And Ray -- much like the father he never knew -- has become a fisherman. Throughout I Know What You Did Last Summer, Helen's miserable home life evokes a great amount of sympathy for the former aspiring actor.

She laments about her and Julie's broken friendship, is constantly mocked by her sister and even expresses remorse when the girls seemingly uncover the identity of their victim: a loving family man named David Egan. Yet, despite the film taking great pains to develop her character, Helen falls victim to a tired horror movie cliche. As the character takes pride in her appearence, is sexually active and expresses interest in traditionally feminine activities, she's ignored, belittled and ultimately killed by the group's "real" victim.

Like many horror films before it, I Know What You Did Last Summer makes quick work of guessing its survivors. With Helen, Barry and several others brutally murdered by the twisted Ben Willis, Julie and Ray rush back into each other's arms. A flash-forward reveals them happily together and a lot more successful, with a new mysterious stalker out for revenge.

By granting Julie the unearned and predictable status of final girl, I Know What You Did Last Summer fails to cement itself as anything unique or surprising. It fails to take advantage of the explosive on-set, the real-life chemistry between Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar and fails to dismantle the sexist stereotype of a "shallow, sexually active woman" getting her just desserts.

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