Totally Killer: Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on October 5, 2023 in / No Comments


Rated R by the MPA for bloody violence, language, sexual material, and teen drug/alcohol use. Running time: 106 minutes. Released by Amazon Studios. Streaming on Amazon Prime on 10/6/23.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Totally Killer, Blumhouse, Amazon StudiosBlumhouse Productions has two horror films opening this weekend – one on large screens, one on Amazon Prime. The large-screen adventure should’ve been swapped for a streamer while Totally Killer should’ve been given a chance at reaping decent spooky season box office numbers. Never taking itself seriously while maintaining high levels of suspense and thrills, Totally Killer is a wonderfully satisfying time-travel-comedy-horror reminiscent of Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls, another recent meta-horror classic.

Both are about young teenagers saving their mothers from serial killers using what they know about the future. (Well, sort of, in the case of The Final Girls.) And both are equally brilliant, spunky, and crazy fun movies. And that’s where their similarities end, other than sharing a biting sense of humor and bearing casts who are completely game for what’s being thrown at them. Led by a letter-perfect Kiernan Shipka, the cast of Totally Killer knows exactly what they’re doing; the best part about it is that it’s not hard to tell they’re having just as much fun as we are.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Totally Killer, Blumhouse, Amazon StudiosLikewise, it’s not hard to lean into the shenanigans ourselves as Shipka’s character Jamie goes on a Back to the Future-esque voyage into the past to unravel a 35-year mystery that’s reared its ugly head in the present day. Yes, that specific movie is mentioned several times in this one, and they do run along the same tracks, especially where a parent’s death is in the balance. Having lost her mother to the seemingly-resurrected “Sweet 16 Killer” – so named because the three victims in 1987 were stabbed 16 times each – Jamie gets the opportunity to go back in time and investigate the murders firsthand, thanks to her best friend Amelia’s (Kelcey Mawema) science fair entry: a time machine.

I adore time travel movies, and I’m definitely placing this one in the “would watch again many times” pile. Just a few months ago, a meme was circulating that said, “If Back to the Future was made today, Marty would be traveling back to 1993.” Of course, that seems like yesterday – grunge, high school (for me), hanging out with friends, etc. – but kick it back five years more and you’re in big hair, bright color territory. Patricia J. Henderson’s costume design work and the hair and makeup departments go all-out in a vicious assault on our memories (for those of us who do remember), harking back to a pre-Wall Street Crash era of excess and gaudiness.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Totally Killer, Blumhouse, Amazon StudiosIt’s through their work that we get to experience the teenage versions of Jamie’s parents and their friends, who aren’t really the buttoned-up, mature people Jamie has known to this point. No – the younger version of her mom, Pam (played as a teen by Olivia Holt), is a bitchy mean girl, surrounded by her gang of “Mollies,” who just so happen to be the three girls about to be murdered. After Jamie’s unheeded warnings come to pass with the first victim being found dead at a party, Pam and the remaining Mollies – along with the teenage versions of her father Blake (Charlie Gillespie), gym teacher Randy (Jeremy Monn-Djasgnar), and local sheriff Kara (Ella Choi) – start taking her advice… in their own way.

The culture shock Marty McFly experienced is lessened by the fact that there really isn’t much of a difference between what kids were doing in the late ‘80s versus what they’re doing now. Of course, the requisite nod to social media and computers ruining life as we know it gets some play here, but that also provides a terrific case for not having smartphones or modern technology being involved with how the plot moves. Instead, the gang is forced to stay together to outwit and outlast the killer.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Totally Killer, Blumhouse, Amazon StudiosBut Jamie’s very presence in the past has already started to create ripples, as the first victim is found in a different place from what’s been told to us before. Not only that, she has to keep her parents from hooking up too soon (it’s said early on that her mother would never have liked him in high school), which gives us a healthy dose of laughs as she tries to keep them from getting too horned up lest they split and deny her a family to come home to… if she makes it back.

Oh, this movie. It’s too much fun to just be lost in streaming land. Director Nahnatchka Khan brilliantly weaves tones of comedy, suspense, horror, and actual science fiction into a thrilling whodunnit/slasher flick, bouncing us between past and present with enough time to appreciate the consequences of Jamie’s interventions. Khan asks Shipka to play Jamie as someone on a mission, not afraid to do what needs to be done; this drives a lot of the comedy and emotion, especially as Jamie injects herself into her mother’s life. She also gets to meet Amelia’s mother Lauren as a teenager (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson), likewise a scientific genius; with both mother and daughter working to solve this at different ends of the timeline, a touching bond gets formed as the teenage Lauren efforts a plan to get Jamie home.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Totally Killer, Blumhouse, Amazon StudiosOnce Pam gets past her initial misgivings about this strange psychic who’s mysteriously come from Prince Edward Island in Canada – which is the cover story Jamie invents at the last second – it’s fun watching the two get to know each other. Pam eventually comes to be Jamie’s friend in this short span, and that’s where another parallel to The Final Girls is made. The daughters in each film have to disguise who they are, never mentioning that they’re their mother’s future offspring, but a rapport is built, eventually leading to genuine friendship. Personal, down-to-earth moments like these give Totally Killer an easy-to-like heart to balance its sometimes gory nature, and we can’t help but grin as we watch it unfold.

There aren’t too many time travel slasher flicks like this, and writers David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo have a grand old time nestling snugly into this niche. We can finally answer the “What would the bastard child of Back to the Future and Scream look like?” question. The result is a suspenseful, funny, and surprisingly heartwarming movie that has no hesitation in bringing you along for the ride. Totally Killer is, well, totally killer – it has enough brains, personality, sass, and horror to rock its way into this year’s Halloween season, and it has enough staying power to be repeatably watchable.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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