The 80s and 90s, eras filled with iconic teen flicks that ran the gamut from the time-travelling adventures of Back To The Future (1985) to teen slasher classics like Scream (1996), have left an indelible mark on our cinematic memories. But what if someone dared to combine these two beloved genres in 2023? Enter the thrilling teen time-travelling slasher flick Totally Killer.
Directed by Nahnatchka Khan, known for her work in the 2019 rom-com Always Be My Maybe and the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson biopic series Young Rock (2021), Totally Killer takes us on a nostalgic journey through time and terror. Khan successfully captures the vibrant atmosphere and fluorescent colours of the 80s, while also deftly highlighting the problematic attitudes and behaviours of that era when viewed through today's lens.
The story unfolds 35 years after the shocking murder of three teenagers, as the infamous "Sweet 16 Killer" returns to his old hometown on Halloween night to wreak havoc once more. Our protagonist, 17-year-old Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), a high-schooler, inadvertently discovers a way to travel back in time to 1987 -- the year of the original killings.
She's now faced with navigating the unfamiliar and outrageous culture of the 80s but is determined to stop the killer before his deadly spree can even begin. To achieve her goal, Jamie teams up with her teenage mother and friends, aiming to take down the killer once and for all before she's trapped in the past forever.
Totally Killer doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it gleefully plays with well-worn genre tropes and subverts expectations along the way. It may not break new ground, but it provides a rollicking good time for 90 minutes, serving as a perfect escape for fans of gore flicks.
(Photo: Prime Video)
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this film is its refusal to take itself too seriously. Rather than laboriously explaining the intricacies of time travel, the writers throw out a few mumbled words to pretend they've made an effort, then plunge us headfirst into the action. It's refreshing that the film understands that the audience isn't concerned with the mechanics of time travel rules -- what they want are thrilling kills, nostalgic 80s callbacks and an engaging whodunit mystery, and Totally Killer largely delivers on all fronts.
Despite being a streaming movie, Totally Killer boasts impressive production values, making the most of fluorescent-coloured clothing, a well-chosen soundtrack and the absence of modern technology. These elements authentically transport us back to the 80s, immersing the audience in the era's unique ambience.
As a time-travel movie, the narrative skilfully interweaves events in both the past and present. This parallel structure keeps the momentum flowing while allowing for entertaining deviations in the timeline due to the changes made in the past. The mystery element is also effectively obscured, creating doubt about the killer's identity. While there are hints along the way, they're not overtly obvious, keeping viewers engaged and guessing.
Kiernan Shipka proves to be an excellent choice to lead the film. As she demonstrated in Netflix's Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina series, she possesses a talent for dark comedy. Shipka's facial expressions and snarky quips elicit numerous chuckles and laughs, showcasing her impeccable comedic timing and natural delivery.
Of course, Totally Killer isn't the first film to explore time travel as a means to alter the present or to incorporate murder as a central theme. However, what sets it apart is its approach. It takes successful elements from iconic films like Scream and Back To The Future, combines them with a punchy script, and expands upon them in a way that feels fresh and invigorating.
It may lack that extra special ingredient or an originality to make it something a little bit more memorable. Like many other films produced by Blumhouse Studios, it doesn't break new ground in the horror genre, and it likely won't find a place in your top 10 movies of the year. Nonetheless, Totally Killer delivers a satisfying, entertaining experience that offers a level of escapism that's increasingly rare to find in the genre these days.
- Totally Killer
- Starring Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen
- Directed by Nahnatchka Khan
- Now streaming on Prime Video