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How Amazon's I Know What You Did Last Summer Is Better And Worse Than The Movie

New movies and shows styled after '90s teen slashers have been having a modern heyday, with shows like "Scream" and films like the "Fear Street" trilogy tapping into the nostalgia for the things that frightened today's adults back when they were kids. So it was only a matter of time before someone revisited "I Know What You Did Last Summer," the campy, bloody tale of four teens who kill a stranger in a hit and run one summer, only to wind up paying the price for their dark secret a year later. Amazon's version of the horror classic unfolds over the course of eight hour-long episodes instead of 100 minutes, giving it a lot more room to expand on the narrative of the film ... for better and for worse.

As evidenced by its Rotten Tomatoes score, the 1997 film was hardly a critical smash, leaving plenty of room for improvement with a remake. However, in its decision to take significant strides away from its source material — both the film and the 1973 novel on which it is based — "I Know What You Did Last Summer" surpasses its predecessors in some ways, while falling woefully short in others. Here are some of the biggest ways Amazon's slasher series outshines the film, alongside some of its most fatal flaws.

Warning: Spoilers for all of Season 1 of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" to follow.

Better - A personal connection

In the original novel by Lois Duncan as well as the 1997 movie, the traumatic events that unfold are all precipitated by the teen protagonists accidentally killing a stranger with their car, and then mutually deciding to cover it up. However, Amazon's "I Know What You Did Last Summer" takes this premise one horrific step further by creating a personal connection between the teens in the car and the person in the road — making her the twin sister of the car's driver. But wait, there's still another twist: Before the accident, the twins coincidentally swapped clothing, so the dead girl that they all believe is Allison is actually her sister Lennon (both played by Madison Iseman). Terrified to admit the truth, Allison then adopts Lennon's identity, thinking that Lennon's friends are more likely to keep the secret if they believe she's her sister.

This makes the slasher mystery at the heart of the series a more intimate affair than the one depicted in the '97 film. When the killings start, the teens have all been reckoning with the guilt of covering up the murder of their best friend's sister for a year. Meanwhile, Allison has been living with the tension of maintaining the identity of her sister for the same amount of time. It adds a lot of interpersonal angst that the original version of the story didn't have, deepening the impact of what each of the characters did the summer before, and adding a lot of fodder for red herrings and hidden motivations.

Worse - Everyone kind of sucks

The original film starred '90s royalty Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe, and its sequel brought back Hewitt and Prinze and added Brandy and Mekhi Phifer. The cast was pretty much a who's who of beloved teen actors of the late '90s, making it easy for the audience to connect with their characters in a short period of time. Further, their relationships with each other showed genuine affection for one another — albeit with a hefty side helping of drama — so their fear and concern for one another when the killer begins targeting them feels genuine, and the audience feels sad every time one of them dies.

Unfortunately, despite the larger cast and the much more interesting connection between the characters in Amazon's update, the protagonists in the new "I Know What You Did Last Summer" are nearly all unlikable. The series is clearly attempting to tap into an edgy "Euphoria" vibe, but misses the mark, with its attention-hungry teens indulging in a laundry list of vices together within the first few scenes of the series yet forgetting to ever establish why they even care about each other, let alone why we should. It's a shame, because the core group at the center of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is composed of interesting actors with a lot to offer, but in this series, everything they dish up is disappointingly shallow.

Better - A more diverse cast

While in the late '90s, it (unfortunately) didn't seem all that unusual for films to have an all- or mostly-white cast, the 1997 film's lack of diversity is glaringly obvious today, when most shows and films make at least a bit more of an effort to reflect the world we actually live in. In this way, the new "I Know What You Did Last Summer" positively pole vaults past the original, changing its setting from North Carolina to the fictionalized Hawaiian town of Wai Huna. The show doesn't really do much to incorporate its Hawaiian setting into its plot other than incorporating traditional Hawaiian cultural elements into several characters' funerals, but the Pacific Island setting does lend itself to increased racial diversity among its cast.

Of the core group of five teens involved in the initial murder and cover-up, three — Margot (Brianne Tju), Riley (Ashley Moore), and Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso) — are people of color. Further, due to the increased adult presence in the show, a large number of the supporting cast are also much more racially diverse than in the original film. There is also significant LGBTQ+ representation among the main characters, with at least two of the central quintet implied to be bisexual and a third is gay, while a fourth has two moms. All in all, it's a welcome update that is much more reflective of the world as it is ... even if that's pretty much the only way in which the show is realistic.

Worse - Leaning into problematic tropes

Unfortunately, although the casting department knocked it out of the park when it comes to racial diversity, the writing for "I Know What You Did Last Summer" winds up stumbling into a number of problematic racial tropes. While of course in a slasher, it's expected that a number of the characters we meet in episode one will no longer be in the world of the living by the end, there are still some pitfalls that could easily have been avoided with a more racially sensitive approach. For instance, the first major deaths of the series following Lennon's murder are Johnny and his fiancé, Eric (Duncan Kamakana), which kicks off the series' serial killer whodunit arc. But by abruptly offing the happy gay couple first — and in a graphically brutal way, at that — the series barrels full tilt into the Bury Your Gays trope, making gay characters expendable to further the arcs of the straight characters.

Of course, it eventually turns out that neither Margot nor Allison are exactly straight either, but at the time of Johnny and Eric's deaths, it feels as though the show is killing off its only major queer character in service of the others' plotlines. But the problematic tropes don't end there: "I Know What You Did Last Summer" eventually also kills off Riley, along with numerous other characters of color, while zooming in closer and closer on Allison, Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman), and Margot, the latter of which turns out to be the killer. When all the major characters of color are either killed off or revealed to be evil, in service of a white protagonist and her (admittedly damaged) white love interest, it's not a great look, even for a slasher. Although "I Know What You Did Last Summer" should be commended for its diversity, it would've done well to consider how that diversity could and should impact its storylines, and adjusted accordingly.

Worse - An adaptation in name only

While "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is ostensibly based on the book by Lois Duncan, the story has little in common with its source material, which Duncan would say is to its detriment. The late author was notably upset with the '90s adaptation, so one can only imagine how much more disturbed she'd be to see that Amazon took the gore and sensationalism of that film many steps further. In the second episode, the killer even goes so far as to film Johnny's gruesome decapitation, which she then texts to all their friends. From there on out, the kills are typically brutal, bloody, and — perhaps most disturbingly — quickly shrugged off.

"What I, personally, have a problem with are the stories (usually on television where action takes the place of introspection) where violence is sensationalized and made to seem thrilling rather than terrible," Duncan once said in an interview with the ​​X-Rated Childrens' Books Newsletter. "I was appalled when my book, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer,' was made into a slasher film. As the mother of a murdered child, I don't find violent death something to squeal and giggle about." Duncan was talking about the murder of her daughter, Kait, who was shot to death in the summer of 1989. Given Duncan's personal feelings about her work and teen slashers in general, she would likely be deeply disappointed by the many ways in which "I Know What You Did Last Summer" embraces the exact qualities of the genre that she found so distasteful.

Better - More characters mean more twists

Neither Lois Duncan's original novel nor the 1997 film adaptation are particularly heavy on regular twists, instead favoring a single grand reveal about the killer's identity and true motives toward the final act. Amazon's version, though, sprinkles twists throughout, a storytelling choice made possible by the drastically expanded cast. The identity of the victim and the tight-knit nature of the Wai Huna community pretty much rules out the possibility of an anonymous outsider as the killer, while the sheer number of characters gives endless possibilities as to who it could be.

Even the main characters themselves don't ever land on a solid theory, pointing fingers desperately in every direction as they keep dropping one by one. Yet rather than narrow down the playing field, each murder seems to only raise more questions, casting suspicion on nearly everyone the camera touches. The gradual revealing of each character's backstory and secrets means the audience is constantly being surprised and reframing what we think we know, providing plenty of fodder for theorizing and keeping viewers consistently on our toes.

Worse - Way too many subplots

Unfortunately, while the expanded cast makes plenty of room for red herrings and surprise reveals, it also opens the door for countless subplots that never get much room to breathe and don't really lead anywhere. The first episode introduces us to a mysterious cult whose members all killed themselves years earlier, and subsequent episodes reveal that familiar members of the community are actually still involved in the cult themselves ... only for none of that to really be particularly relevant or explained. There is an extended subplot about Allison and Lennon's father Bruce (Bill Heck) carrying on a not-so-secret romance with Sheriff Lyla (Fiona Rene), yet they end the series more or less in the same place they started. Bruce used to be married to Clara, who was in the cult, and witnessed the teens hiding Lennon's body, but then Clara dies and none of it matters. Riley winds up having more lives than a cat, yet none of the big reveals that she's inexplicably still alive wind up being witnessed by anyone or having any impact whatsoever on the story.

Could some of these many dead-end subplots be justified as setting up a potential Season 2? Possibly, but it still feels as though they should have at least made some effort to pull their own weight in Season 1 if they're going to take up so much time. It winds up feeling as though the series is just spinning its wheels for most of the season, biding its time between kills because it needs to fill up eight hours somehow. Which begs the question of whether "I Know What You Did Last Summer" really needed to be eight whole episodes in the first place, or whether it would've had a better chance of taking off with half as much runway.

Worse - It forgets to be scary

It seems like it should go without saying that a slasher show should be scary, but someone should have reminded "I Know What You Did Last Summer," because for the majority of its runtime it's simply ... not. It's not that the slasher stuff fails to be frightening — although much of it doesn't even get a chance to terrorize, since it happens offscreen while everyone is distracted — but that the vast majority of each episode is filled up with regular teen angst and drama. Even when characters die, there is no lingering dread or tension in the air, no feeling of a ticking clock. Characters simply mourn briefly and then go about their days.

Sure, the core group of teens occasionally decides to do some sleuthing for themselves, but they spend far more time hooking up, doing drugs, posting on social media, and generally acting as though the methodical slaughtering of their friends and neighbors is little more than a temporary blip in their buzz. Same for the adults — even Bruce, despite having recently helped cover up the murder of one daughter by helping the other assume her identity. You'd think that would create some psychological baggage, but no one seems tremendously bothered by the horrific violence plaguing Wai Huna. Most of the murders happen in the closing minutes of the episodes, while the rest are almost entirely absent of any real thrills, suspense, or even jump scares. For a show that's marketed as a slasher, you'd think it might spend a little time focusing on the actual slashing, rather than shoving it into the margins.

Better - A more human killer

The killer in Lois Duncan's novel turned out to be the new boyfriend of its protagonist, who was secretly the brother of the boy she had killed the previous summer. The '97 film went with a more convoluted twist, making the killer a murderer before he was ever struck by the car, a psychopathic father who had first killed the boy he blamed for his daughter's death before then turning his murderous attentions to the teens who had hit him with their car. Amazon's version brings the killer closer to home, revealing that it's actually Lennon's best friend (and secret lover) Margot, who's killing people out of a twisted motivation to force Allison to admit the truth about their switched identities.

While Margot's motivations are questionable, she still manages to possess something that the film's killer fisherman Ben Willis never seemed to have — humanity. Although deeply flawed, Margot is a character we get to know pretty well over the course of the series, which includes a stint in rehab for her serious struggles with anxiety and depression. Willis, on the other hand, was almost supernatural, with no real human traits that allowed the audience to sympathize with him, and an inexplicable ability to survive what seemed like certain death not once, but twice. Having the killer turn out to be a fairly one-dimensional madman may work for a fast-paced movie, but wouldn't have been able to carry a full season, so revealing that the killer was one of the characters we knew best was definitely the wiser move.

Worse - No one's motivations make any sense

While it was absolutely the right call to go with an established character as the killer, "I Know What You Did Last Summer" completely drops the ball in trying to explain why she did it. Margot tells Allison that her goal in killing half of Wai Huna was to force her to admit the truth, that Lennon was dead and that she, Allison, had assumed her identity. But it doesn't actually make sense in the context of what we know about Margot and Allison. She says she killed Johnny because Allison loved him most, but everyone knew that Allison was hung up on Dylan. Why allow him to live? Not to mention that Margot loved Johnny and had no attachment at all to Dylan, so it's bizarre that she'd kill her best friend instead of the guy she barely tolerates. And she claims that her goal, once she realized Allison was never going to admit the truth, was to frame Allison for the murders, but we never see any evidence that might lead anyone to suspect Allison. Doesn't seem like a very well thought-out plan.

Additionally, Allison's decision to frame Dylan for the murders to stay with Margot also doesn't fit with everything we've been told about Allison. For the entire show, the audience is under the impression that Allison's real bond is with Dylan, while she's only feigning her attachment to Margot because that's what Lennon would do. Margot as much as calls her on it. Yet all it takes is Allison inexplicably throwing Dylan under the bus, and suddenly Margot is ready to make a truce. The season ends with Dylan in jail and Margot and Allison walking happily hand in hand along the cliffs that line the beach, leaving the viewer to wonder how on earth we got here and what the point of it all was, because "I Know What You Did Last Summer" certainly doesn't tell us.