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Warning: This review contains spoilers for Totally Killer.
Spooky season has once again returned, which means rushing to buy a last-minute costume, fall weather, eating way too much candy, and binging horror films. But for those who are scared of everything, it might be best to stick to a horror film that highlights the comedy over the scares—something like Totally Killer.
Totally Killer is Prime Video’s newest slasher flick, starring Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Kiernan Shipka as Jamie Hughes; a teenage amateur detective who accidentally travels back in time and decides to try and stop an infamous local serial killer from ever committing his crimes, including the murder of her mother. While the film is definitely a fun watch and the actors nail their performances, the plot is confusing and contradictory.
Totally Tubular Vibes
Totally Killer is a totally fun Halloween watch, but only if you’re looking for a minimally scary, comedic movie to fill your horror film quota this October. Totally Killer is not scary. Sure, we see almost every single stab of the knife from the Sweet 16 Killer, but the film places idiotically fun jokes and constant reminders of how different modern times are from the ‘80s over common slasher shocks and tropes.
About halfway through this film, I stopped watching to write down, “This movie is kinda dumb, I love it.” If that isn’t a perfect summary of Totally Killer, I don’t know what is. The whole movie is just stupid in an enjoyable way, and the comedic timing is pretty good throughout. Most of the film’s comedy is carried by the Mollys: the four original victims of the killer. One of the Mollys, Pam (Jamie’s mother) takes the time to list possible suspects and the amount of people who have a vendetta against her and her friend group. The list is ridiculously long. The group also seems to constantly forget that they are in extreme danger, causing them to do stupid things like go to an empty cabin in the woods, despite knowing a killer is on the loose and specifically targeting the four girls in their group. It’s hilariously dumb. And it’s so fun to see just how badly their trying-to-be-cool attitudes will screw them over next.
However, while the funny idiots could have easily carried this film’s dialogue and vibes by themselves, the writers and directors decided to throw social commentary into the mix. Jamie is appalled by the comments, bullying, and thoughts of the ‘80s kids she befriended, which is necessary—and even funny—the first couple of times. After a while, it just got annoying. Like, okay, we get it, 2023 is different from 1987. People thought differently; more things that are definitely not okay, and weren’t then either, were accepted by the general public, but we didn’t need to be reminded of this fact every five minutes. While the movie was funny, some of the comedy was the same joke over and over again. It was just Jamie being horrified by insert-deeply-problematic-behavior-or-comment-here at least twenty times during the movie’s nearly two-hour running time. Again, this was necessary to be added in, but unnecessary to be used constantly. The film was funny most of the time, but the irrelevant social commentary was too annoying to ignore.
The Hughes Cruise
The characters are somewhat two-dimensional (except for Jamie) but this oddly worked for Totally Killer. The Mollys didn’t need to be developed much. They were given the stereotypical mean girls treatment, and it worked well. Who cares about Marisa’s (Stephi Chin-Salvo) goals and passions as she’s running from a serial killer? Who cares if Blake (Charlie Gillespie) wants to find love when his long-term girlfriend was just murdered and he immediately moves on to the next girl who makes eyes at him? The characters are running from a murderer, and their only goal that needs to be known is that they want to escape.
The actors nail the stereotypical jerk roles well. Charlie Gillespie, best known for playing a lovable ghost in Julie and the Phantoms (RIP), portrays a player who honestly does not deserve anything he has until the end of the movie. Jeremy Monn-Djasner, or Randy in the film, gave the most perfectly annoying performance of a popular moron, which actually threw me back into my tenth grade math class. Olivia Holt, playing Pam Miller, is the highlight of the popular group. She hits every joke perfectly, and makes it believable that Pam would automatically accept a random girl telling her she is a psychic with very little evidence.
Kiernan Shipka’s character worked a little differently. Jamie wants to save her mom and has to cooperate with teenage versions of her parents and their friends to do so. She kills it. Shipka is likable, easy to root for, and—most importantly—believable as the main character. The desperation and exasperation of what she is going through is evident throughout the film, but not too much to take away from the fun slasher vibe. Shipka perfectly portrays the main character in this time traveling horror, becoming a modern-day Marty Mcfly thrown into the Scream universe.
Totally Killer is nowhere near perfect. It’s stupidly fun and the acting matches the feeling, but the storytelling is where the film lacks. The way time-traveling works is haphazardly explained and too many moments of the film are just plain confusing.
One of the core parts of the movie is that Jamie time-travels. If she changes something in the ‘80s, something will change in 2023, right? Well, sort of. The film explains time-travel like “a river,” basically saying time all happens at once, but then also doesn’t. Then, we see the things that Jamie changes become like Mandela effects in modern time, but not everything. Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) remembers a crime scene differently, but she doesn’t remember the name of her favorite band changing. It’s contradictory and weird. Another huge part of the film should be that Jamie has the possibility of accidentally ensuring her parents don’t get married and have a child. This would add a level of fear to the film, as Jamie might get erased from existence. However, the film executives must have wanted to steer clear from completely copying Back to the Future. Lauren (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson), who is equally as knowledgeable about time travel as her daughter Amelia, tells Jamie that she’ll still be alive if this happens, but no one will remember who she is. While this is still a terrifying fate, it’s almost completely brushed off as something Jamie doesn’t need to think about. The time traveling aspect could have been expanded more, and definitely should have been rethought, as time inconsistencies and worries of dramatically screwing up the future could have added to the drama of the film.
The film is confusing in other ways too. Why is the killer wearing that specific mask? We don’t know. Why stab the victims sixteen times? Because the first victim was killed on her sixteenth birthday, maybe? Worst of all, the whole motivation for the (HUGE spoiler ahead) copycat killer is that he wanted to be famous, but that doesn’t explain why he would wait thirty-five years to kill Jamie’s mom. While logic isn’t required to make a slasher film work, some would be nice. Too many confusing contradictions took away from the message and the fun of the film.
Totally Killer is a great choice for a simple Halloween flick. With hilariously idiotic moments and incredibly perfect stereotypical acting, the film had the potential to become a memorable cult movie. However, the too-frequent social commentary and subpar storytelling positions Totally Killer as a totally average modern slasher.
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