Review: Totally Killer

Score:  B+

Director:  Nahnatchka Khan

Cast:  Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Liana Liberato, Julie Bowen

Running Time:  106 Minutes

Rated:  R

"Avoid the knife, keep your life."

Though hardly original, Nahnatchka Khan's Totally Killer beautifully interlaces the tonal themes of Marty McFly's time travel adventures in 1985's Back to the Future with the self-aware sensibilities of Wes Craven's 1996 slasher Scream. While the two seem like an odd pairing, they blend naturally, giving us one of the more fun genre films of the year.

Kiernan Shipka stars as Jamie Hughes, a typical modern-day teen frustrated that her overprotective mother (Modern Famly's Julie Bowen) won't allow her to spread her wings and live a little. But on Halloween night, her mother's caution proves just when the infamous "Sweet Sixteen Killer" returns, thirty-five years after their initial killing spree, to claim their next victim. Running for her life, Jamie hides out in an old, weathered amusement park where a set of unexpected events sends her back to 1987. Surrounded by bright neon pastels and wine coolers, she must team up with her now high school-aged mom to stop the killer.

Boasting an impressive cast of young talent, Totally Killer leans heavily into the eighties nostalgia, embracing its setting as it takes jabs at the era's physical properties and the tone-deaf cultural state of affairs. The strong disconnect between the two generations allows for a quick laugh. Still, co-writers David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D'Angelo push the boundaries by incorporating stylistic elements from many timeless classics that define the decade.

Boldly self-aware of the ridiculousness of her situation, Jamie, a newly minted foreign exchange student from Canada, validates her knowledge of the future with her psychic gifts. The self-proclamation is absurd but works within the confines of the film's universe. Think Hot Tub Time Machine, but with women. And a masked serial killer.

As Jamie wedges her way into her mother's adolescent life, details of the original killings shift ever so slightly. The film does explain the inconsistencies, using a soft, simple version of the butterfly effect to justify the alterations. It isn't rocket science, and the film doesn't dive too much into the nitty gritty, opting to keep things straightforward to accommodate even the most casual viewer.

That said, Totally Killer isn't all comedy. Though the genre gives the film a strong pulse, its nucleus centers around the scares, offering several horrific, brutal killings. Even the opening scene, set in the present day with a perfectly cast Bowen, is unapologetically horror. Immediately, we understand the hybrid genre offering as the film refuses to saturate its identity in either pool.

It is this ebb and flow that gives the film its cadence. Never fully committed to one genre or the other, Khan works a mostly strong script with flawless precision, keeping viewers screaming and laughing throughout. The film's one downside: It doesn't know how to end. A simple but satisfying trap leads to an uneventful reveal, further dampened by a ridiculous montage that, in all truth, would have catastrophically altered Jamie's life in the present day. But alas, this is a film—a fun slasher comedy that refuses to take things too seriously. Viewers will enjoy it best if they too, follow suit.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.