I Know Who Killed Me is the kind of movie whose reputation precedes it. One can’t even say its name without inciting a wave of jeers. While other derided films have experienced successful reevaluations, this picture just can’t afford the same compassion. The vitriol Chris Sivertson’s film has trafficked these past twelve years is steadfast; the disappointment lingers like a stubborn stain. This is how emphatic people are when it comes to hating this movie.
In I Know Who Killed Me, Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan) is a high school student living in a town called New Salem. She’s well-off, a talented creative writer and pianist, and she’s caught the eye of the school’s star athlete. Life seems to be perfect for Aubrey, but it’s clear she’s not entirely happy. It’s almost as if something is missing from her life. After a football game, Aubrey disappears without a trace. A recent murder of another local girl has already put the town on edge, and everyone fears the killer has now abducted Aubrey. Eventually, Aubrey is found alive. Maimed, but alive. In a surprising turn of events, she has no recollection of what happened to her, and she now thinks she’s an erotic dancer named Dakota Moss. So unless Aubrey gets her memory back, the cops can only do so much to protect her. And it won’t be long before her attacker realizes his latest victim is still alive.
“…does I Know Who Killed Me have more to offer than just being another “so bad it’s good” movie?”
As anyone who follows pop culture knows, 2007 was not a good year for fallen celebrity Lindsay Lohan. She was enduring scrutiny under the public eye as she filmed the lampooned thriller. And once the whole world saw the movie, she and the director were subjected to ruthless ridicule from critics and audiences alike. What could have been a serviceable distraction ended up becoming one of the most infamous genre movies in recent years. But over a decade later since its release, does I Know Who Killed Me have more to offer than just being another “so bad it’s good” movie?
In spite of its notoriety, there’s a cadre of cinéastes who enjoy I Know Who Killed Me. And they don’t like it ironically either. Putting some necessary distance between then and now has certainly helped them to see past the movie’s most fatal flaws. Because looking beyond the rutted, blemished surface of the film, there’s an unexpected bevy of things to like if one is so inclined.
When producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. (Friday the 13th) first came across newcomer Jeff Hammond’s script for I Know Who Killed Me, he asked himself “Do I want to see this movie?” He found the story unique and unlike anything else he had ever read. So, Mancuso went with his gut and searched for a director. He found one in the up-and-coming Chris Sivertson, who had yet to direct anything from a major studio. Mancuso was so impressed by his indie film Lost he thought Sivertson would “elevate [the script] and take it beyond a genre movie, beyond a horror film.”
Principal photography took place in California between December 2006 and March 2007. Barely a week into shooting, though, Lindsay Lohan suffered appendicitis. Production was temporarily suspended until Lohan’s return. Complications from the actress’ surgery caused another delay. To top things off, shooting was held up again once Lohan admitted herself into rehab for thirty days. She was still allowed to work on the film, but once the camera turned off, Lohan had to return to the facility at night.
“At the Razzies that year, it won several awards including “Worst Picture.” […] For all intents and purposes, I Know Who Killed Me was a flop.”
Being reviewed after Eli Roth‘s Hostel II, Sivertson states the MPAA was rather lenient about his movie’s grisly nature. The film is notably more tame than other torturous entries of the gory mid-aughts. Regardless, these discomforting scenes are quite key in understanding the movie’s disoriented heroine.
Knowing what was to come, TriStar did not screen I Know Who Killed Me for critics. The film was soon met with a torrent of negative reviews upon its premiere; it topped many “worst of” lists. At the Razzies that year, it won several awards including “Worst Picture.” To add insult to injury, the $12 million-budgeted movie only earned a worldwide total of $9 million. For all intents and purposes, I Know Who Killed Me was a flop.
Through mutilation and the hacking off of limbs, audiences gain a roundabout sort of insight into Aubrey‘s restless psyche. After she’s found alive with serious injuries to one hand and one leg, those parts are surgically removed. Amputation in fiction and dreams often symbolizes the disassembly of perfection and normalcy. Before all of this, Aubrey was a model student and daughter. She was content if not bored. However, anyone can perceive the subtle malaise Aubrey felt towards her comfortable life. It may not have been of her own doing, but the killer cutting up her hand and leg — both of which are used in playing the piano, mind you — was a means of eliminating what ails Aubrey. So while it’s not exactly bodily self-harm, interpretation as such isn’t out of the question.
Through flashbacks leading up to her abduction, we see Dakota bearing sudden onset necrosis of her hand. Post-pole dance, a finger even falls off. That’s not the worst of it, though. In an excruciatingly protracted segment, Dakota sews the rotten digit back onto herself because “hospitals are for rich people.” The detective (Garcelle Beauvais) assigned to Aubrey‘s case theorizes the killer’s cutting is all about punishment. Dakota‘s guerrilla reattachment of her finger suggests a faintly similar idea — she’s forgoing medical help as a kind of personal flagellation. The self-inflicted pain becomes atonement for her life choices.
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Sivertson’s attempt at body horror is gauche, but his esteem for the subgenre is plain. No, he doesn’t squick people out like only David Cronenberg can. And his method of portraying the trope lacks poetry. His method of conveying turmoil through physical harm — self-induced or vicarious — is at the very least nuanced and notable.
A Score To Die For
So if nothing on screen in I Know Who Killed Me is grabbing your attention, then perk your ears to the haunting soundtrack that accompanies Aubrey/Dakota‘s journey. Joel McNeely’s score is a joy to hear throughout the movie and later after it ends. It’s admittedly incongruous with the film’s actual tone, but it describes the story better than both the directing and writing.
McNeely’s work here is unanimously applauded for being somber, perceptive, discordant, and moving. There is a strong resemblance to the compositions of famed television songwriter Billy Goldenberg. In particular, his Duel and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark soundtracks. It wouldn’t seem out of the question to assume McNeely wrote his score with a different movie in mind. Be that as it may, the darkly melodious music in I Know Who Killed Me is a triumph.
In The Red, Out of The Blue
I Know Who Killed Me was shot on HD with Panavision’s Genesis system, which was also used for Mel Gibson‘s Apocalypto. Sivertson was apprehensive at first as he loved shooting on film, but he quickly came around because high-def allowed him to experiment more in post. After all, he had a specific vision for Hammond’s story; he wanted to use color to differentiate between Aubrey and Dakota. The director’s determination for establishing color themes gives the impression of amateur directing. Rather, Sivertson separates I Know Who Killed Me from other horror movies coming out at the same time.
Not only are Aubrey and Dakota respectively represented by blue and red, the film is soaked in those same complementary colors from near head to toe. In the mid-2000s, there was an overwhelming amount of yellow-screening going on in horror. I Know Who Killed Me instead brightens the picture, and saturates the aforesaid blues and reds with low hesitance. Blood is vividly red, not black like tar. And there’s never a need to adjust your contrast during dark scenes. Having so much color and luster strips the movie of realism, but it opens it up as an uncanny fairy tale through the lens of neo-giallo.
“Having so much color and luster strips the movie of realism, but it opens it up as an uncanny fairy tale through the lens of neo-giallo.”
Assigning the motifs of blue to Aubrey and red to Dakota makes their polarizing personalities more comprehensible. Aubrey‘s color of blue denotes sadness, a state of being inherent at the start of the film. Whereas Dakota‘s redness signifies her passion in several regards — demeanor, sexuality, resolve. As the story furthers along, more blue seeps into Dakota‘s narrative. This indicates a melding of characteristics and perspectives.
There are other implications in Aubrey and Dakota‘s color designations. Blue suggests tranquility, but Aubrey feels nothing of the sort as she’s tortured by a madman with a penchant for the very same color. At the same time, the blueness amounts to acceptance of one’s fate. A semblance of peace, if you will. Meanwhile, Dakota‘s redness is unwavering; she becomes more compassionate and brave. When one remembers how red can symbolize the heart, it’s no wonder Dakota is appointed its agent in the film. Her firm hopefulness eclipses her ornery disposition.
Ill-conceived direction notwithstanding, there’s small bursts of artistry in Chris Sivertson’s aesthetic. He tapped into the stylings of Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lynch, but his own approach to the thriller sub-genre is perhaps too curt for most anyone’s liking. Nonetheless, the director’s fallacies culminate into a major case of wabi-sabi.
Perfect Actress / Imperfect Victim
A sizable factor in why people have so much disdain for I Know Who Killed Me — whether or not they’ll admit it — is Lindsay Lohan. She reigned supreme as the princess of tabloid news back then. It was hard to get away from her presence elsewhere either. If she wasn’t in movies, she was on the radio. By 2007, America was just sick and tired of everything Lohan.
In the beginning, Frank Mancuso, Jr. had qualms about casting Lohan. Not because of her party girl stature, but because Aubrey/Dakota was so unlike her past roles. The misgivings were mutual as Lohan was uneasy about the script’s gore. She was curious if they could change some of that; in the end, Lindsay was “so glad that [she] went there.”
No doubt it was hard to film with the lead simultaneously being in rehab for addiction. Simply getting Lohan to and from her trailer was an ordeal. Sivertson points out that the paparazzi actually appear in the background of some scenes. Despite all the hoopla, the director had nothing but admiration for Lohan. He went as far as saying “she’s got an incredible amount of raw talent, and what she does on-camera seems almost effortless.”
“Lohan’s prowess was beyond her years at the time, and she’s deserving of praise, all things considered.”
Lindsay Lohan’s eminence stems from her bad girl credit as much as her filmography. Morgan Creek Productions CEO James G. Robinson was no fan of Lohan during the filming of the Garry Marshall drama Georgia Rule — he called her “discourteous, irresponsible, and unprofessional” in a publicized letter. Lindsay’s co-star Jane Fonda, on the other hand, defended her by saying Lohan “draws on her emotions like no actress [she’s] ever seen.” How often is there an exposé this scathing for misbehaved male celebrities? Alas, there was and still is a double standard when it comes to forgiving the mistakes of women in comparison to men in Hollywood.
Lindsay Lohan is an easy target for criticism. But when addressing the shortcomings of I Know Who Killed Me, the actress is not one of them. She doesn’t phone it in, and she certainly isn’t the weakest link in the cast. What happened to Aubrey was brutal and unfair; it takes a capable actor to portray that. Lohan’s prowess was beyond her years at the time, and she’s deserving of praise, all things considered. She’s outright the only good thing in the movie’s more distasteful or awkward sequences.
Now That’s What I Call A Twist
In what sounds like a soap opera sweeps stunt, it’s revealed that Dakota isn’t just a delusional alter-ego; she’s in fact Aubrey‘s long-lost twin. We learn that Aubrey‘s adoptive father (Neal McDonough) bought baby Aubrey from her birth mother after his and his wife’s (Julia Ormond) own baby died. In the meantime, Dakota was left in the care of a drug addicted woman who eventually overdosed. Aubrey subconsciously became aware of Dakota‘s existence, and she channeled that knowledge through creative writing. So every time Aubrey was tortured by the serial killer, Dakota inexplicably experienced the same injuries as her mislaid twin. The disfigured Dakota was on her way to New Salem when she was mistaken for the missing Aubrey. And now knowing the truth, Dakota sought out the sister she never knew she had.
Many moments in I Know Who Killed Me spur uproarious reactions, but the secret twin revelation is a special one that’s as clever as it is ridiculous. The device has found longevity in books, film, and television for years and years. As for the rest of the world, dualistic cosmology — the belief that two important and often opposing concepts exist, E.g. good and bad — paved the way for the “evil twins” chestnut long ago. Yet Dakota isn’t malevolent. She’s initially coded as a dark facet of Aubrey‘s psyche, but in time, we grasp that she’s more upright than not.
Aubrey and Dakota‘s bond builds on the preconceived notion that twins share a psychic connection. Writer Jeff Hammond goes as far as showing they have a stigmatic relationship. At least when it comes to physical harm. We as the audience don’t even know if the link goes both ways or not. It may be a self-contained matter that only came to be when their tie was in danger of being permanently severed.
Not exploring a gravely untapped offshoot of twin horror is a missed opportunity. Instead, the script shoehorns in the twin aspect too late into the game. But if it’s any modicum of comfort, I Know Who Killed Me boasts a unique and unforgettable twist. The dismount could have been better; no one’s arguing that. Hammond’s effort at breaking new ground as opposed to following a well-trodden road is still worth pointing out.
End of Spoilers
In a time when hate-watching is acceptable as well as encouraged, mediocre pursuits rest comfortably alongside more highbrow entertainment. It appears that both the inept and unremarkable can skirt by without long-term contempt. Content makers have definitely tapped into this niche audience that derives pleasure from lackluster television and movies. And maybe in this era, I Know Who Killed Me can be appreciated for what it does right and not condemned for everything it did wrong.
The tagline for I Know Who Killed Me states “There are two sides to every crime.” Funnily enough, a lot of people — including the film’s star Lindsay Lohan, who told a fan on Twitter that his watching the movie twice was “two times too many” — might be so bold to call this one a crime in filmmaking. But just as the catchline implies, there are always two sides to every story. Critics and general audiences have skewered the film for years, and it doesn’t seem like opinions will be changing anytime soon. That being said, one should be reminded Brian De Palma’s sordid washout Body Double attained a critical upturn after being denounced in 1984. Will I Know Who Killed Me achieve the same fortuity? Only time will tell. Until then, abashed fans idly stand by as their most guilty pleasure inches towards cult status.