People get cut. That’s life.
—Kid on the bus
“She knew a trick,” reads Aubrey (Lindsay Lohan) in her high school creative writing class. “She knew how to turn her life into a movie and watch what happened.” Given the much-discussed circumstances surrounding the release of I Know Who Killed Me, this early scene sounds almost inspired. How better to describe the bizarre, increasingly toxic relationship between starlets and their consumers—a disturbing mix of over-identification and rupture premised on making everything into “a movie”?
Even if you accept this premise, and with it the idea that viewers want to see their celebrities punished, the violence against Aubrey is extreme. While Chris Sivertson’s movie is certainly bad, its broader resonances are worse. That the violence appears directed against Lohan—again, given her incessant abuses by media (“We are all tabloid now”)—only makes it more difficult to watch. This begins with the opening scene, the seeming “movie” that Aubrey goes on to cite as her coping mechanism: Stripper Lindsay in red light with a pole. Her lips are luscious and her body fit, but she’s a terrible dancer and the men who watch are barflies of the most tedious sort. She has some sort of dreadful hallucination, in which her pole bleeds all over her hand, and with that the film begins again, with Aubrey’s relatively sedate narration.
But she’s not sedate, not by a long shot. Even the good girl in this vile vision deserves retribution, because she flirts with the “help” (a gardener of some sort, who holds up a large stick to simulate his erection as she emerges from her sports car in her parents’ swank ‘burban driveway. She saunters away and gives him the finger, but not before you’re thinking what he is, that she’s interested. It’s tedious and sad, and you’d rather not be watching this movie.
Still, Aubrey is supposed to be the “good girl,” which is reduced here to the fact that she resists her piano teacher’s creepiness and won’t have sex with her terminally bland football player boyfriend Jerrod (Brian Geraghty). She says it’s because she’s headed to college in the fall, but she also look to have some principles: responding to his hand on her thigh in science class, she hisses, “Is that all I am to you, a way to relax yourself before the game?” She does, however, go to the game, then wanders off into an incredibly hectic crowd in what appears the town’s center. Just like that, Aubrey’s kidnapped by the local serial killer, who wears a blue-man mask and dismembers girls. She cries a lot while he cuts off her fingers, arm, and leg in yucky close-up.
Meanwhile…. Aubrey’s missingness upsets the otherwise lackadaisical townsfolk. It even occasions some emoting by her pretty parents, Susan (Julia Ormond) and Daniel (Neal McDonough), who affect that sort of liberalish inattention that movies like to indict, though it’s revealed—much later—that dad really is caddish, inept, and deceptive à la The Omen about Aubrey’s birth.
Several worried-parents scenes later, Aubrey seems to reappear by the side of a road, minus an arm, a leg, and her memory (the film treats this as incidental, but it’s disturbing that she’s discovered by yet another girl who’s crying for unknown reasons as she drives her car, suggesting that all the girls in this neck of the woods are in trouble of various sorts). The found girl insists that her name is Dakota, that she’s a stripper raised by a crack-head mom, and that she has no idea how she was injured: her limbs were “just gone.” (She also has perfect makeup in every scene, for which the film offers no explanation.)
Now, bless her, Lindsay Lohan has Serious Acting to do, and she’s more than able. For it is not Aubrey (who named this child?) who’s been found, but actually Dakota, her twin sister from whom she was separated at birth (this is Daniel’s lie: he bought a baby from a crack ho in the hospital). The sister provides the sinister basis for Aubrey’s lifelong sense of doubleness (“I feel like half a person, we’re finishing each other’s sentences”) and omigod, Dakota is the same stripper Aubrey imagined in the opening scene. Or maybe it was Dakota imagining Aubrey. The film’s tricky like that.
At least it seems tricky to the two FBI agents on the case, Bascome (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon) and Lazarus (Spencer Garrett), who are dumb like bags of hammers. (Bascome’s analysis of the torture-porn freak: “The cutting is about punishment, but he doesn’t like the dying part”). They suspect Dakota (whom they believe is Aubrey) is lying, and so they interrogate her at the hospital, as does their part-time shrink (Gregory Itzin, whom Dakota is surely right to distrust, as he played 24‘s President Logan). Their adversarial questioning brings out some entertaining meanness in Dakota. “I didn’t grow up in New Salem,” she snarls, “I grew up in the real world.” Well, it’s gritty in her flashbacks, anyway.
Unable to countenance everyone’s desperation (her life has always sucked, and now the suburbanites’ lives suck too: so what?), Dakota yells at Susan when she offers toys from Aubrey’s childhood, because she’s heard that such cues help coma victims: “Do I look like I’m in a fucking coma?”, barks Dakota. She’s even less patient with the dopey feds. When they ask how she feels, she erupts: “How the fuck would you feel? I practically fucking died. Now I’m locked up in this fucking hospital like a goddamn prisoner.” Grrr.
Tough chick Dakota does take a few moments to describe her hard, lonely youth, including the part when she discovers her mother dead of an overdose (cue: gray, slack-jawed corpse flashback). The poor child has low expectations but she’s wily too, instructing Daniel and Susan as to the illogic of their insistence that she’s Aubrey (“Why would I pretend to be someone else if I had all this shit?”), not anticipating the big lie that Daniel will eventually confess (though you suspect something like this is coming, however preposterous). At last, Dakota’s so aggravated by the slow-wittedness that begins to follow her own hunches, escaping the agents with help from Jerrod (whom she sexes expertly, even without a leg, thus securing his instant loyalty). After tracking a few keywords on the internet, she finds “Stigmata Twins,” thus determining her fate: she must save her twin, whose dismemberment by the serial killer caused her to lose her limbs (the film stretches the concept of “stigmata” here). Venturing into the dark woods without a cell phone, she faces down the monster and rediscovers her own sweetness. Sort of.
As preposterous as all this plotting sounds, the film’s structure is worse, at once clichéd and outrageous: frequent pole-dancing flashbacks show Lindsay in lingerie (other girls go bare-breasted) and accosted by a wiry boss-lady who says that the legitimacy of Dakota’s ID is of no concern to her (if it says she’s 21, “You’re fucking 21 to me”). Some set-ups have no follow-through, and some scenes make no sense at all: Dakota is actually warned by a character named “Saeed the Prosthetic Tech” (Eddie Steeples) that her new leg’s battery will wear down, but then, just when it should in the killer’s basement… it doesn’t.
It’s possible the movie seemed to Lohan and/or her handlers a means to transition from her Disney movies into “adult” fare. It’s also possible that no one read a script or that she is truly surrounded by people who do not have her best interests at heart. It’s almost understandable that she would melt down in the face of a publicity tour for I Know Who Killed Me (Rob Schneider has no excuse, however).
Insisting that her badly-written reality is more real than Dakota’s, Bascome observes, “She’s living in a world she made up.” Not exactly. Dakota—and Aubrey and Lohan too—live in a world everyone else made up, struggling to make sense of all the absurdity and nastiness, fitting in ridiculously well, and suffering for it.