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The film:

  • Actor Shipping: Although it was Freddie Prinze Jr. she'd eventually marry, a lot of fans shipped Sarah Michelle Gellar with Ryan Phillippe.
  • Adaptation Displacement: The movie is far more well-known than the novel at this point; people who seek out the book may be shocked that it's a character drama about the guilt the characters feel over the hit-and-run (a little boy in the novel) and having to cope years later while dealing with the title-based note. It's even got to the extent that some reprints of the book have a cover featuring a fisherman with a hook - even though that's something that exists entirely in the movie.
  • Alas, Poor Scrappy:
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    • Barry gets killed after he starts to show some Hidden Depths and has spent the day trying to protect Helen. The fact that she - and she does definitely care about him - has to watch him die while people try to stop her from helping makes this even worse.
    • Elsa is a real piece of work as well, but seeing her face to face with the killer and the look of terror as he raises the hook...she even screams once she realises what's about to happen to her.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • Despite Julie's stance as the responsible one of the group, she never actually stops the others from dumping the body. She just protests it, and never goes to the police herself. She has ample opportunities to stop the others. But she goes along with the concealment and keeps the pact, suggesting she might not be as moral as she paints herself.
    • Helen acts as though she just failed as an actress in New York, saying "it didn't really work out". But if you think about it, she was probably traumatised by the accident, and moving to a different city so soon afterwards can't have helped. Perhaps she returned home because she needed support from her family or to simply be near someone familiar.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice:
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    • A lot of people remember the film for Jennifer Love Hewitt spending the climax in a tight white tank top.
    • For the other end of the spectrum, the gratuitous Shower Scene with Ryan Philippe (who then spends several minutes in just a towel) is a close second.
  • Critical Dissonance: The film was trashed by critics upon release. Audiences however, loved it. The film was number one at the box office for three weeks and ended up outgrossing many of the bigger budgeted releases of that year.
  • Estrogen Brigade: The movie has 90s teen heartthrobs Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. Both get scenes wearing tight tank tops, and the former gets an extended Shirtless Scene. Unsurprisingly there are a lot of girls who watched the film for them.
  • Fight Scene Failure: When Julie, Helen, and Barry go to visit Ray, Barry throws a punch at him. It doesn’t even come close to connecting, yet Ray falls down as if it hit.
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  • First Installment Wins: The first film is seen as a quintessential 90s teen slasher - with iconic moments such as Helen's extended chase through the town, the murder of Barry during the pageant and Julie's infamous "what are you waiting for, huh!" - and is remembered to this day. The second was a Contested Sequel that didn't make as much impact, and most fans try to pretend the Direct-to-Video third film (with none of the original cast and added supernatural elements) doesn't exist.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Hollywood Homely: Despite her significant Adaptational Attractiveness, Elsa is still given a pair of glasses to make her seem less attractive than Helen. True to this trope's form, it fails miserably to the point of making her MORE beautiful.
  • Les Yay: Helen tells Julie that she misses her at one point, and Julie is gushing over how good Helen looks as the Croaker Queen at the start.
  • Memetic Mutation:
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Barry crosses the line because he dives in after the body, to make sure it stays sunk. While there, he's the only one who sees the Eye Awaken of the victim, meaning he KNOWS that the victim is still alive! He just swims away, then pressures the others to keep the secret when they start to relent.
    • Any sympathy the fisherman had dwindles after HE starts killing people uninvolved with the hit and run.
  • Narm Charm: As noted above, Julie screaming "what are you waiting for, huh!" at the sky is a little silly. But still perfectly reasonable, given the amount of stress the poor girl is under.
  • Never Live It Down: To this day the film gets a lot of flak for killing off its biggest star, Helen, after having spent so much of the movie focusing on her psychological torture by the fisherman.
  • Paranoia Fuel:
    • The killer making it all the way into Helen's house without her, her father or sister knowing. None of them even heard him. Hell, the door wasn't even locked. The only reason Helen didn't die then and there was because the killer wanted to torture her even further.
    • There's also the idea of being chased through town and no one hearing your screams for help, because it's after hours and everyone else is at the big parade.
  • Relationship Writing Fumble: Julie and Helen spend more time with each other than their respective boys. In fact, more attention is given to the loss of their friendship than either of their break-ups.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Two CBS examples, Max is Leonard, The Fisherman is Mike Franks.
  • The Scrappy: Barry, basically being an very unbearable Jerkass. He's a little better in the movie where he's not as much of a Hypocrite and dies trying to protect Helen. But still not very likeable.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • After the film builds a nice amount of tension over who the killer is, he turns out to be someone we've never heard of.
    • While the film is thought to be a good one, there are some who feel that an adaptation of the book's plot would still have been good. Though admittedly hard to pull off with the double-identity twist.
    • By not having Helen pull a Not Quite Dead in the climax due the freezer having slowed her bleeding, with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Shout-Out.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Barry knows someone wants to kill him. Said person even tried to run him over. So what does he do? Why, he ends up going up to a dark, secluded balcony all by himself.
    • Helen is no better. After a relentless pursuit, she runs through an alley and comes upon a parade full of people - only to stop and check if the killer has caught up to her yet. Naturally, she would've gotten away if she had just kept running. Of course, she could not have seen the Offscreen Teleportation coming...
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic:
    • Max is presented as a Dogged Nice Guy. He makes a move on Julie - when he knows she has a boyfriend - gets very pushy when she politely turns him down, and acts like a jerk to Ray (who is also nothing but nice to him).
    • Julie herself may fall into this for some viewers, given her dour nature, the way she seems to blame her three friends for the accident while maintaining her own self-righteous attitude, and particularly her treatment of her former best friend Helen. Helen makes several attempts to reconnect with Julie over the film, even flat-out saying that she misses Julie, to which Julie responds with hostile silence.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Julie's status as the moral one of the group makes her seem a little dull and Unintentionally Unsympathetic (see above). Plus some of her more interesting character traits from the book are removed (there she was a slacker who used the accident to motivate herself to improve her schoolwork, and she's actually dating the brother of the boy they killed) - not to mention the book is more of an ensemble, while the film treats Julie as the lead. This results in a lot of people wishing Helen had been the Final Girl, as she has a far more compelling narrative and seems like a more layered character.
  • The Woobie: Helen's attempts to become an actress failed, and she's reduced to working in the family store (which her sister loves to gloat over). That's not to mention that the killer seems to love torturing her psychologically.

The novel:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Although Elsa's jealous towards Helen, there are the occasional Pet the Dog moments - and Helen even thinks back to a "rare moment of sisterly friendliness" when Elsa suggested they move in together. That raises the question of whether Elsa wishes to mend the rift between her and Helen - or she's just The Sociopath who wants to impose on her.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Collingsworth "Collie" Wilson returned from fighting overseas to learn that his little brother David was killed in a hit-and-run and his family shattered by the ordeal. Discovering who the culprits were through the flowers sent to his brother's funeral, Collie vowed to kill them for killing David. Integrating himself into his targets' lives with separate identities, Collie then sends three of the perpetrators notes and newspaper clippings to remind them of the accident and ascertain their guilt, then lures out the other perpetrator by insinuating that there were photos taken of the accident before shooting him, nearly paralyzing him. Collie then attempts to kill two of the perpetrators before being beaten unconscious and arrested, frightening two of his targets into confessing their crime.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Barry's the one most responsible, as he was driving, but he's the least affected—his sole concern is covering it up. Then after he's shot, despite knowing full well that the perpetrator is the person who has been stalking the group, thanks to the threatening phone call he received just before it happened, flat-out lies about it, first by claiming that the call was from Helen, thus allowing his parents to blame her for his injuries, then lies to Ray and claims it was a random mugging gone wrong, thus allowing everyone's life to be in danger, proving that he really doesn't care about anyone but himself. It's hard not to feel sorry for a guy who might be paralyzed for the rest of his life, but Barry pushes it pretty close.
    • Some might say Collie crosses this when he shoots Barry. There's no doubt that he has every right to be angry at the group, but turning them in would be a lot more tolerable than taking the law into his own hands and deciding to KILL THEM all, especially considering that three-fourths of them were genuinely shaken up and sorry about what had happened.
  • The Woobie: Helen's from a poor family and continually tortured by her jealous older sister, and in a relationship with a guy she loves but is seeing other people behind her back. She's kind and good to everyone but everyone hates her because of her beauty. While her part in the accident doesn't make her 100% sympathetic, she still goes through a lot.

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