Having watched and loved The Final Girls, I went into Totally Killer a little skeptical given the similar premise. I didn’t have to be, because it’s fairly different from The Final Girls, and has its own identity, even if it does draw inspiration from sci-fi movies like Back to the Future.
Totally Killer follows Jaime (Kiernan Shipka), who doesn’t have the best of relationships with her mom Pam (Julie Bowen). They’re sniping at each other from the get-go, and Jaime resents her mom’s overprotective behaviour. But we can understand why Pam’s worried for her daughter’s safety. Years ago, the town was plagued by a series of killings. The killer – labelled the Sweet Sixteen Killer – has been dormant for over 35 years, but returns this Halloween and kills Pam. Jaime is devastated, especially since she spent so much time bickering with her mom instead of appreciating her. As it turns out, her best friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) has been working on a time machine, and of course Jaime is conveniently able to go back in time to the point of the Sweet Sixteen killings, to hopefully stop the killer and save her mom in the future.
Part of the fun of Totally Killer is watching a teen from our time navigate the total chaos that was the 80s. Shipka’s always been in more serious horror films, like The Blackcoat’s Daughter or The Silence, so it’s nice to see her in a comedic role. She’s naturally charismatic, and while the humour can be a bit too pointed at times, the film is so enjoyable mainly because she’s the lead.
When Jaime finally meets the younger version of her mom Pam (Olivia Holt), she realises things aren’t going to be as easy she envisioned. Pam’s a part of a popular girls group called the Mollys, who idolize Molly Ringwald and dress up as different versions of her constantly. Feels fairly ironic that the mean girls have claimed Molly Ringwald as their own, since she’s played the dorky, cute girl in most of her films, The Breakfast Club being the one notable exception. Part of the fun of this movie is recognising the 80s references, and how it cheekily pays homage to some of the aspects in Back to the Future, like Jaime’s initial attraction to the younger version of her father Blake (Charlie Gillespie).
One of the more unique aspects of Totally Killer is how it deals with time. Usually, when a person is transported back in time, the main focus is on that time period, however, this isn’t the case here. We move back and forth between 1987 and 2023, because time is like a river, and we start to see the ripples Jaime’s presence in 1987 starts to create in the future.
The set pieces built around the kills are decent, and the film does well in building tension, as well as providing enough fodder for jump scares. I can attest that I screamed my head off at least once during the runtime of the movie.
The problem with these slasher-comedies is that things usually break down in the final act, when the killer is revealed. Totally Killer, however, manages to subvert our expectations and brings something different to the table. While I do wish they did a better job of fleshing out the killer so we understand their motives better, I was pleasantly caught off-guard, which is rare to accomplish when most of us are so used to the twists and spins of a narrative.
Totally Killer is totally rad, and manages to make a name for itself amongst other iconic slasher comedies like Happy Death Day and Freaky.
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Totally Killer doesn't reinvent the slasher comedy genre, but it's still pretty clever and funny, and deals with time travel in a way that makes sense. Plenty to enjoy here.
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