Directed By: Chris Sivertson
Written By: Jeff Hammond
Produced By: Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Julia Ormond, Neal McDonough, Brian Geraghty, Gregory Itzin
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes
Review Date: June 25, 2010
If you’ve ever stumbled across a notorious critical and commercial bomb on cable and thought, Hey, this isn’t so bad, this is the column for you. Each month, we’ll examine a new failed film that’s worth a second look.
…Sleazy, inept and worthless piece of torture porn… — Lou Lumenick, New York Post
…Place any other actress in the part and it’s just another straight-to-DVD release — Christy Lemire, Associated Press
Many will speculate about Lohan’s state of mind in agreeing to appear in this claptrap horror piece… — Steve Davis, Austin Chronicle
It’s incredibly easy to see the flaws in a movie like I Know Who Killed Me. The script by Jeff Hammond is ludicrous, riddled with plot holes, bad dialogue and leaden attempts at psychological trickery. The lead performance by Lindsay Lohan in a dual role is shaky at best, leading to some bad line readings that only highlight the worst of the inept dialogue. But what is interesting to me about reviews of the film is that not only did critics spend most of their time wagging their fingers in misplaced fits of moral outrage at Lohan’s off-screen behavior, they turned a blind eye to the fact that, in the middle of a summer blockbuster season, a studio film made an honest attempt to stand out from the crowd. While it’s easy to consider it an overall failure, the over-the-top, anything-goes tone the film achieves puts it in the good company of so trashy they’re entertaining films like Wild Things and Basic Instinct. Don’t get me wrong — the film is not a misunderstood classic, but there’s plenty about it to recommend if you can look past the obvious flaws.
The plot is simple. A serial killer is kidnapping and killing teenage girls by severing their limbs. Aubrey (Lindsay Lohan), the perfect teenage daughter every parent wishes for, goes missing. Days later, she turns up, barely alive and minus a few limbs. But the twist comes when she claims her name is Dakota, a streetwise stripper who wants nothing to do with Aubrey’s parents or the police. Eventually, Dakota takes it upon herself to solve the killings and has a showdown with the most obvious choice for a serial killer in cinematic history. Like I said, simple.
If it sounds like I’m mocking a film that I’m supposed to be defending, that’s because the film does invite its share of legitimate criticism. Simply put, sometimes its attempts at sincerity come across as pure cheese. But the filmmakers’ willingness to look silly and blur the line between playing like an honest thriller and a straight-faced spoof makes it a memorable film. Granted, there are parts of the film I’d like to forget. Chief among those would be Lohan’s clunky portrayal of the brainy, goody two-shoes Aubrey. Even if her performance as Dakota was only marginally better, at the very least, her whiskey-and-cigarettes voice was a better fit for a world-weary stripper who just woke up from a coma, missing a leg. But for every cringe-worthy moment, director Chris Sivertson pulls off an audacious trick that shouldn’t work, but does, and all is forgiven.
Speaking of Sivertson, let’s talk about what he brings to the film. Despite his inexperience when it came to studio productions (I Know Who Killed Me was his first studio film after his indie debut, The Lost), Sivertson attacked the dog of a script he was given as though he were directing a brilliant epic that shone a new light on the human condition. Granted, his enthusiasm was sorely misplaced, but his direction — best described as what would happen if a Dario Argento film geek on meth were given a modest budget and a long-lost Joe Eszterhas script — distracts from the ridiculousness of the story and patches over some of Lohan’s less-inspired acting moments. These same stylistic choices also lend the film a strange Grimm’s fairy-tale quality that helps gloss over some of the more obvious plot holes.
The downside of Sivertson’s attempts to pull off an Argento-inspired thriller is two-fold. First, when you direct with such flashiness, the odds are that the occasional visual flourish will not work and bring the movie to a crashing halt. Such was the case with Sivertson’s overloading on red and blue filters, which represent the dual nature of Aubrey and Dakota in the least subtle possible way. The second problem is that his extreme style, even when it does work, pushes the film into territory that goes beyond what critics and mainstream audiences were willing to accept. While he succeeded in creating a unique film out of what was supposed to be a simple exploitation movie, he also set the movie up for failure. If critics weren’t already determined to hate the film because of Lohan’s involvement, the graphic violence, leering sexuality of the strip club sequences and overly stylized visuals would have pushed them in that direction.
I Know Who Killed Me is the type of film that should have a long life on DVD and cable, gathering a cult following. As time goes on, its flaws look less damning and its strengths shine through. Sadly, the one flawed aspect it may never overcome is Lohan’s presence. It’s not that she is terrible. She just lacks the star power or serious acting chops to deliver the silly dialogue she is given. Even with Sivertson propping her up with a solid supporting cast that includes Neal McDonough, Gregory Itzin, Julia Ormond, and Brian Geraghty, she still fails when it comes to carrying her share of the load.
The prevailing view is that I Know Who Killed Me will be remembered as the final deathblow to a once promising performer’s career. It would be a shame if that turned out to be the case. Even if it’s leading lady seems intent on proving that she may not deserve a second chance, the film deserves a better fate.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.