uly 27th, 2007: twenty-five days after her milestone 21st birthday, Lindsay Lohan’s latest star vehicle—the intriguingly titled, mid-budget brainfuck I Know Who Killed Me—was laid bare upon 1,320 North American screens. In a statement issued to gutter rag TMZ almost a month to the day afterward, the erstwhile Disney princess candidly declared: “I am addicted to alcohol and drugs”. The two events are so entwined as to feel inseparable, each of them causing catastrophic injury to Lohan—the former to her fledgling movie career; the latter, her professional reputation and personal life.
The saddest thing is that none of it came as any real surprise. Rumours of excessive partying, brushes with the law, and volcanic on-set behaviour had long been festooning lurid front pages, all of which were touting “LiLo” as the new millennium’s poster child for a conglomerate of Tinseltown tragedies; a Monroe or a Garland for the epoch of MySpace and Perez Hilton. Laying the blame solely at the feet of vile gossip columnists and the ruthless paparazzi would be a copout. It seems only right, therefore, to question how intrinsic a role us film journalists played in this contemporary witch hunt? That isn’t to suggest that a few snotty notices were the catalyst to Lohan’s undoing; her fall from A-list prestige was set sensationally in motion by her shenanigans on the earlier Georgia Rule (2007), calcified by a visit to rehab partway through principal photography of IKWKM, and bookended by an arrest for cocaine possession just three days prior to the picture’s début. Still, the reviews that emerged over that period make for mightily nauseous reading:
“Lindsay Lohan wears more clothes in this movie than she does clubbing in real life” ➢ “Lohan is such an easy punchbag for her offscreen antics that it’s dismaying that her career choices haven’t done anything to help the cause” ➣ “Who could’ve predicted a bust for alleged cocaine possession, vocational self-destruction, and a general display of stupidity would be the career highlight of Lohan’s weekend” ➢ “There is no way that Lohan was in her right mind when she signed the contract for this one” ➣ “If Lohan wants to know who killed her career, all she’s got to do is look in the mirror . . .”
Whichever way you slice it, these appraisals (and many more, the majority from esteemed outlets) leave an unpalatable tang, the slinging of dirt at Lohan’s public façade—and, most insensitively, her presumed frame of mind—coming across more like character assassination than film critique; the authors less principled, unbiased creatives than vultures pecking greedily at the remnants of a wounded animal. The 2000s were a different ballgame, for sure: society had yet to become attuned to the complexities of mental health, the constant scrutinization of women just an unfortunate mainstay of the cultural status quo. I’d like to imagine that things would be different today—that Lohan would receive help, not hatred, and that I Know Who Killed Me would be given a fair trial.
Naysayers have prattled at length about the convoluted framework, obnoxiously stylised colour coding, and brief forays into the hackneyed realm of torture porn. As for the story, it’s something De Palma would’ve concocted in his heyday: bright young college student Aubrey (Lohan) is snatched and tortured by a sadistic killer—she survives the excruciating ordeal but wakes up days later in hospital (minus a couple of appendages) claiming to be Dakota, a footloose and foul-mouthed erotic dancer. In the capable hands of Chris Sivertson (fresh off his directorial breakthrough, 2006’s The Lost), IKWKM bubbles along with the somnambulant simmer of a small-town fairy tale; an inverted Edward Scissorhands (1990) kissed by Lynchian phantasmagoria, the puzzling logic of Italian gialli, and the crass, morbidly eccentric bio-horrors of peak Frank Henenlotter. Bit of a hard sell, you might say. An imprudent, teenybopper-centric marketing push from backers Sony didn’t help—young’uns starving for straightforward slice-and-dice must have schlepped out of theatres feeling hoodwinked, the picture’s wickedly avant-garde temperament more synonymous with the back catalogue of Ken Russell than a brand new Saw, Friday the 13th or Halloween.
Whilst the irony of Lohan portraying opposite facets of the same person—one pure, one tainted—and the parallels this drew with her messy public image wasn’t wasted on critics as such, their refusal to explore the piquant subtext this brought to the table (save for poking fun at the film’s headliner) with any measure of discernment was a missed opportunity indeed. Lohan’s real-world trajectory—perhaps more so in hindsight—is key to IKWKM’s success: as goody two-shoes Aubrey and hard-as-nails Dakota, she fluctuates between wholesome naïveté and whorish rebellion, with Jeff Hammond’s delicious screenplay holding up a mirror—by accident, yes, but compellingly all the same—to Lohan the Hollywood casualty, a persecuted starlet in combat both with herself and outside forces, fighting to retain control as she’s tug-of-warred between the identities of celebrated thespian and tabloid train wreck. Her odyssey feels most tangible as the pic arrives at its berserk home stretch, the devilish Dakota racing to exhume her angelic doppelgänger from a sarcophagus of glass. These final moments may well have seemed preposterous fifteen years ago. Now, the way they allude to a life having come full-circle—laying to rest not just a film career that might (and should) have been, but one that was spearheaded by a similarly valiant dual role: the identical twins in The Parent Trap (1998)—makes for stingingly poignant viewing.
Though yet to be gifted the genuine reappraisal it deserves, IKWKM has subsequently found its niche among rabid midnight moviegoers and a sworn posse of doctrinal defenders. You can lump me in with the latter. Seriously, how can one dismiss a work of pulp (from a major studio, no less) so laden with audiovisual prowess and bold narrative swings? Echoes of Argento and Cronenberg aside, it is the contour of Paul Verhoeven’s similarly ill-fated Showgirls (1995) that looms most evocatively, each flick fronted by promising ingénues on the precipice of disaster—be it personal, professional, or both. Where that picture’s heroine (Elizabeth Berkley) sunk her stilettos into the strip-teasing with manic determination, Lohan approaches the raunchier parts of IKWKM with almost a world-weary disillusionment: it is the toil of an artiste wise beyond her years, a lost soul whose vulnerable flame has been all but extinguished by an avalanche of heartache. Whenever I think of Lindsay, my mind goes not to Mean Girls (2004) or exploitative headlines: it darts immediately to Dakota, prowling across a podium engulfed in soupy neon red. An unshakable fearlessness seethes behind those pensive, smouldering eyes.
I wonder if it’s still there . . .