‘Totally Killer’ Is A Fun Sci-Fi Slasher For The Season – Review
*This review was published during the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes. At GoC, we fully support the creatives who are part of the SAG-AFTRA strike and are working toward getting fair payment and treatment for all their work.
Totally Killer takes a stab at the sci-fi slasher/comedy subgenre following the lingering success of films in the same vein, like Happy Death Day and Freaky. Helmed by Nahnatchka Khan and starring Kiernan Shipka, the film is a fun palette cleanser for those dipping their toes into slasher films this season!
The film follows Jamie (Shipka), whose mother was the sole survivor of her friend group after being targeted by a killer in 1987. When the killer returns, Jamie accidentally travels back in time with her friend Amelia’s (Kelcey Mawema) science fair project, possibly allowing herself to alter the outcome. While travelling back, she teams up with her best friend’s mother (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson/Kimberly Huie, young and adult versions, respectively) and her own (Olivia Holt/Julie Bowen) to solve the murders.
The ’80s setting might be one of the most exciting aspects of the film. Although past generations are guilty of this, Gen Z is also fascinated with nostalgia for times that we never lived. With Y2K, ’90s, and ’70s aesthetics (à la Daisy Jones and the Six and the Fleetwood Mac resurgence on TikTok) in the rearview, the ’80s are back. The trend cycles have become ever so slight, and this film’s ’80s backdrop is en vogue (Sydney Sweeney even recently hosted an ’80s prom-themed birthday). This was a candy-coloured era of consumerism and opulence that birthed iconic (and some pretty bad) slashers. We had Friday The 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slumber Party Massacre, Prom Night; the list goes on. Returning to this era of camp horror allows for some fun homages to horror tropes. When it comes to the ’80s high schoolers, they fit the usual slasher stereotypes – equipped with our favorite ridiculously dumb choices (that we love to make fun of).
This unsolved mystery concept is elevated by a screenplay that, for the most part, successfully captures the Back to the Future fish-out-of-water experience that today’s teens would have if you threw them into the past. Jamie is not shy of comedic dialogue that calls them out on their shortcomings; it lands the first few times, but the bit tends to feel excessive afterward. Besides that, she’s an extremely strong character with vulnerable moments, carried by Shipka’s lively performance. The lengths Jamie goes to try to stop this, sacrificing her own safety numerous times, makes her a great scream queen for 2023. The emotional core comes from the bond with her mother, which is strengthened throughout the film. Her chemistry with Holt’s Pam provides a deeper understanding of her mom’s actions as an adult since she lost so many people around her when she was young.
Totally Killer is a fun sci-fi slasher with an interesting concept. Director Nahnatchka Khan and screenwriters David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo had a lot to play around with, and although it may fall a bit short at times, it holds its own. It might not be as refreshing as other recent films in the subgenre, but I’d still recommend checking this one out during October!