Since Cinemascore began operation in 1979 only 19 films have received the lowest score. In this series I’ll be reviewing those 19 films. This week, The Parent Trap’s mutilated drug addled twin sister, I Know Who Killed Me.
So What is it?
Director Chris Sivertson desperately wants me to describe I Know Who Killed Me as a Lynchian psycho-sexual thriller. Not only does the movie make multiple direct references to Twin Peaks, including filling the set with bushels of blue roses and flocks of owls, it’s also a grab bag of all of David Lynch’s pet themes and fixations; the dark underbelly of a superficially idolized suburban Americana, moral duality expressed as literal duality, deformity and physical abnormality, a fluidity between character and performer, a plot that advances through intuition rather than reason and logic, and a preoccupation with dreams often indistinct from the “real” story. But Sivertson is no David Lynch, and to spite its R rating and incoherent plotting, this is a PG-13 teen-thriller to its core. From the flat visuals, to the largely C-list cast, to the outrageous sexuality devoid of any real intimacy, sensuality, or even nudity, to the bland villain and generic indifferent mystery-of-the-week style plot, there’s nothing here that would be the least bit out of place on the CW.
The story begins and we are introduced to Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan). Aubrey is a real Laura Palmer type, a pretty, wealthy, and popular suburban high school student who gets good grades and dates the highschool quarterback (though they aren’t sleeping together). Aubrey’s a gifted pianist but she’s planning on quitting to focus more on her writing. This is a big mistake because she is an atrocious writer. She works in a painfully inauthentic faux hardboiled style, made all the worse by Lohan’s upbeat chipper delivery, and her sweaty wordy prose often paints vividly absurd pictures, as in; “she didn’t even have the strength to curse him as she choked on the dust of his spinning wheels,” or “but it was what she saw next that slammed her in the gut like a celestial fist,” or my personal favorite, “sometimes if she dreamed hard enough” which conjures up an image of Lohan squeezing her eyes shut with all her strength trying to force a dream. It’s difficult for a movie to convincingly portray artistic talent, but one would think that a professional screenwriter would be able to at least produce an adequate approximation of “promising twelfth grader.”
Aubrey may be leading an idyllic life, but she’s surrounded by sinister figures. There’s her boyfriend who’s aggressive and possessive, her father (Hollywood’s leading budget psychopath, Neal McDonough), a leering gardener that does a bizarre sort of striptease, and a mysterious serial killer who’s already taken one of her classmates. Soon Aubrey has been nabbed as well, and we get a long gruesome exploitative depiction of her torture, intercut with the police investigation into her disappearance. The killer ritualistically dismembers his still living and conscious victims using blocks of dry ice and custom made glass knives. (“Wouldn’t a knife made out of glass shatter as soon as it hit bone?” you might ask.)
These are the scenes where the movie gains its R rating, and they’re pretty ugly. There’s a certain calculus when you make the audience endure something unpleasant. There needs to be a payoff proportional to the suffering you’ve put them through; a point being made, or a particularly satisfying, particularly violent, level of catharsis. Even this early in the film, hell even by the time the title’s dropped, I Know Who Killed Me has demonstrated it’s far too dumb to make any worthwhile points about violence or suffering. And as it begins to follow the perspectives of the police, the family, and the friends, rather than sticking with Aubrey, we are also aware that we won’t be getting the triumphant catharsis that would make this ordeal worthwhile. On top of this, because the film is trying to keep the killer’s identity a secret, we are watching these scenes from his perspective rather than Aubrey’s. The effect is that these scenes do not seem like set up at all, but as though the movie expects us to find them enjoyable in and of themselves. It’s an ugly gruesome scene, made all the uglier by the film’s tasteful censorship when it comes to nudity. It won’t show us a woman stripping off her clothes, but it will give us a long clear closeup of a man stripping off her skin.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The movie is just now rolling around to introducing its hook, as Aubrey is discovered passed out on the side of the road missing an arm and a leg. But when she awakes from a brief coma she insists she’s not Aubrey at all, she’s Dakota Moss, a hard-on-her-luck stripper who has no ID, Social Security number, or a single living soul that can confirm her identity. She also won’t say what happened to her missing limbs.
From here the plot lurches forward uneasily. Under police orders, Dakota moves in with Aubrey’s family and is fitted for a robot arm and robot leg, making us question why the movie went to all the trouble of making us watch multiple amputations if they were just going to magic that detail away. The family tries to convince Dakota that she’s their real daughter, but she maintains her true identity. We also get numerous flashbacks to Dakota’s life. This includes a long gratuitous scene of Lohan dancing in a club, where she remains fully clothed. The scene serves no narrative purpose, goes on forever, and the lack of nudity somehow makes it seem even slimier, since it’s painfully obvious Lohan is uncomfortable filming it.
We also see flashbacks of Dakota’s fingers and hand turning black and falling off, an event that leaves her mildly surprised. She doesn’t even miss work, instead going out on stage with a glove wrapped over her bleeding stump. People react more strongly to discovering a grey hair. These scenes are so bizarre, that it came as a shock when I realized they weren’t meant to be dream sequences, but actual honest-to-God flashbacks. Dakota eventually does some research into what’s happening to her, looking up a YouTube video of Art Bell explaining stigmatic wounds. In this movie stigmatic wounds don’t have anything to do with the wounds of Christ, but instead are what happens when your identical twin gets injured and you instantly experience the same injury. Elsewhere in the movie Lohan describes having a twin as “being half a person, with half a soul” which is some weird-ass medieval anti-twin bigotry. Anyway, Art Bell is fantastic and more movies should have him show up to do all their bullshit exposition.
Dakota also fucks Aubrey’s boyfriend, in a leading contender for the worst sex scene I’ve ever seen in a movie. The fully clothed, but noisy tryst is intercut with Aubrey’s mother furiously cleaning the kitchen in an effort to drown out the absurdly loud sounds emanating from the upstairs bedroom. This whole thing seems unethical to me. Either Aubrey is delusional and her boyfriend is taking advantage, or she’s not, and he’s cheating on her with her identical twin sister in her own bed, something that’s even creepier considering he’s never slept with the real/sane Aubrey before. Aubrey’s mother also seems like she has adequate grounds to object here, even if Dakota is who she says she is.
Meanwhile, the police are skeptical of Dakota’s story, even more so when they discover a story “hidden” on Aubrey’s laptop about a girl with a second identity as a stripper named Dakota Moss. This discovery is the last we see of the police, who never share this information with anyone. We also get a flashback of Aubrey reading this story in class while stretched out on the teacher’s desk like Marilyn Monroe on a grand piano. Not a single person remembers this or ever brings it up even though she’s literally using the same name. You might think that that solves that, Dakota and Aubrey are the same girl with a split personality, but no, that’s just a red herring that will never be explained or resolved.
Dakota, who never doubts her sanity or identity, brings a theory to Mrs Fleming. You gave birth to two girls, and, I guess, just forgot about one. The older woman takes this hypothesis with the patience of a saint, and slowly gently explains to her daughter that she does, indeed, remember her pregnancy and birth. But Dakota’s got theories to spare and the next one hits a bit closer to the mark. The Flemings’ baby died at birth, unbeknownst to the mother, and so Mr Fleming bought a replacement daughter from a crackhead who’d just given birth to twins in the same hospital. So he’s the killer, because he knows his real daughter is still kidnapped and is actively trying to cover it up, so- Nope! The killer is the piano teacher from that one scene. Sure, why not. The movie doesn’t bother giving him any motivation, and we appreciate the brevity. Lohan says, “I know who killed me!” right to the camera, and Dakota follows a series of visions to the killer’s torture dungeon, where she fatally chops his hand off with a glass knife and saves her miraculously still-alive twin. There’s no epilogue or postscript to give us even the faintest idea of the aftermath of this, quite literally, unbelievable turn of events, and the two Lohans don’t say a single word to each other.
So Why the F?
After starting her career as a child model, Lindsay Lohan burst into the mainstream in 1998’s The Parent Trap (A) in a very difficult role for a child actor, and quickly became Disney’s leading young star. Over the next few years she would star in a series of tv movies and score another big crossover hit with 2003’s Freaky Friday (A-) once again playing a duel role in a Disney remake. The next year would bring Mean Girls (A-), something of an instant classic that looked to cement Lohan’s future as a leading lady. She would follow that with one more hit remake for Disney with Herbie Fully Loaded (A), before completing her transition to grown-up movies with a supporting role in the 2006 Robert Altman film Prairie Home Companion.
However, freed from the Disney marketing machine, Lohan was becoming a fixture in the tabloids, and her increasingly erratic behavior was beginning to overshadow her film work. In January of 2007, the then-20 year old Lohan checked herself into the Wonderland Center for 30 days. I Know Who Killed Me was filmed during her stint in rehab, with Lohan working all day and returning to the facility at night. On May 26th Lohan, fresh out of rehab, would be arrested for a DUI and sent right back (this time to Promises Treatment Center) for a 45 day stint. On July 24th, Lohan was arrested for a second DUI, as well as possession of cocaine. On July 27th, I Know Who Killed Me was released to theaters. With its troubled star, preposterous title, abysmal ad campaign, and savage critical response, I Know Who Killed Me was released to an audience primed to tear it apart, and the movie provided little reason not to.
This is the worst part of movie culture. The rabbidness in which we build people into celebrities and idols, and the gleefullness with which they are torn down the moment they begin to disappoint us. Child acting is inherently exploitative and abusive. Children should not be financially supporting their families. Children should not be celebrities. People should not have to maintain a carefully constructed meticulously focus-grouped public persona at the same time that they’re developing their own personality. And that’s not even considering the more malicious forms of abuse; emotional, physical, and sexual, that child actors are often at a much higher risk of encountering. Nor the easy access to drugs and alcohol. It’s easy to look at Lindsay Lohan and see someone who threw away so many gifts; money, fame, tallent, beauty, opportunities that many of us would kill for. To see a rich spoiled girl who was given so many chances, had so much bad and even criminal behavior excused and ignored, until she finally, through drunkenness and laziness and complete professional disregard, made herself unemployable. But these things don’t happen in a vacuum. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds aren’t getting blackout drunk every night because they’re too happy and satisfied with their lives. Even at twenty years old in this movie, you can already hear the damage the the alcohol and the cigarettes are doing to her voice. Ultimately Lohan is responsible for her own actions, but it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened had she had less paparazzi and Razzies and magazine covers, and more of a support group, fewer people trying to profit off her and more people looking out for her. She had some real talent once, and it didn’t need to turn out this way.
So Were they right?
I liked the scene with Art Bell. And the DVD contains an alternate ending that would have revealed the whole movie was just a story Aubrey had written (a terrible, terrible story), which according to the official rule book would have been an automatic F and caused everyone’s movie license to be immediately revoked. But even though the movie was very nearly far worse, there’s still little to recommend. There’s just no dramatic structure here at all. We should start the movie with our protagonist, Dakota – down on her luck stripper, and spend a bit of time learning who she is and the problems in her life, before she gets bonked on her head and wakes up surrounded by a loving wealthy family claiming that she’s their kidnapped daughter. Dakota tries to prove her real identity, but can’t, then, reluctantly, assumes Aubrey’s life, as she tries to solve the mystery that no one else is investigating, and discovers dark secrets and uneasy truths about Aubrey’s supposedly idealized life.
Instead, we spend the first ten minutes with Aubrey before she disappears for the remainder of the film, then split time between several perspectives but mostly follow a sub-CSI police procedural, before that thread is also dropped for the final act. Dakota is very passive, she never doubts her innocence, she never discovers anything about Aubrey or herself, and she doesn’t really do any investigating either. The movie just doesn’t bother with any of the fun scenarios that the premise, however absurd, makes possible. The movie also doesn’t seem to understand that Aubrey and Dakota are two separate characters, which might work if this were the David Lynch film it so desperately wants to be, but the plot is far too literal minded for it to ever build any sort of dream logic and the entire film is completely devoid of atmosphere.
There are times when I Know Who Killed Me is amusingly stupid, but ultimately I found it too dull, too ugly, and too sad to recommend even as an enjoyably bad film.
Next Time: Whiz! Bang! Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney take us on a highflying space adventure.