Totally Killer

12/27/2023 08:04

Film: Totally Killer

Year: 2023

Director: Nahnatchka Khan

Writer: David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo

Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt and Charlie Gillespie



This was a movie that I think I saw the poster for and didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until I heard it covered on a few podcasts and people digging it that I jumped it up my list of 2023 films to check out for my end of year list. Seeing that this featured Kiernan Shipka made that easier. I’m not always the biggest slasher fan, but I heard that this was taking elements of Back to the Future so I was intrigued by that.

Synopsis: when the infamous ‘Sweet Sixteen Killer’ returns 35 years after his first murder spree to claim another victim, 17-year-old Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) accidentally travels back in time to 1987, determined to stop the killer before they can start.

We start this in 2023 on Halloween. The backstory that is given to us of this city by Chris Dubasage (Jonathan Potts). As the synopsis gives us, there was a series of murders in 1987. The killer targeted three teens. Tiffany Clark (Liana Liberato), Marisa Song (Stephi Chin-Salvo) and Heather Hernandez (Anna Diaz). Tiffany was killed first, on her sixteenth birthday. All three victims were stabbed 16 times. Chris has a podcast and gives tours of the different important places around town surrounding this tragedy.

The movie then shifts over to our lead, Jamie. Her best friend is Amelia Creston (Kelcey Mawema) and she is into science like her mother. Jamie’s parents are Blake (Lochlyn Munro) and Pam (Julie Bowen). Jamie is annoyed with them, like teens tend to be. She is also rebelling, wanting to be seen as more grown up. Pam is worried about her daughter, being the same age as the teens killed back when she was in high school.

Tragedy strikes and the killer chases Jamie. She hides in the time machine that Amelia is building. It works when the killer stabs his knife into the control panel. This takes Jamie back to 1987 and right before the murders start. She then must enroll in high school, seek out the younger version of her mother, played by Olivia Holt. She soon learns that her mother was best friends with the murder victims and they’re a group of mean girls. Jamie seeks the aid of her best friend’s mother as a teen, Lauren (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson). Even though it is farfetched, it was teen Lauren’s design for the time machine and she’s been expecting this. Jamie must prove to teen Pam and her friends that they’re in danger before it is too late. She also must worry about changing the time-space continuum.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that we are getting a slew of slasher films that are plays on 80’s comedies as well as other genre classics. There is Happy Death Day which is Groundhog’s Day. Freaky is Freaky Friday and even this same year features It’s a Wonderful Knife which is a play on It’s a Wonderful Life. Here we are getting Back to the Future. A smart move is that this movie acknowledges the existence of that classic as well as its basis and even leans into what they were trying to say about changing the past wouldn’t ruin the present here. I thought that was smart. There is still the butterfly effect though, which is also appreciated.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, this is a fun slasher film. This works in the framework of this subgenre. What we do here is learn about the murders from 1987. The killer strikes early in the first act. Jamie is sent into the past and then the kills happen at good intervals. The only unbelievable thing there is the battery life Jamie’s phone had in the past. I can overlook that though. I’ll bring up that for me, slasher films either need good characters or good kills. I’ll explore if this has either or both.

I loved the character of Jamie. I’ll also credit Shipka’s performance. She plays in the comedy of how things were different in the 80s as opposed to today. She gets a ride from a lady she didn’t know. This lady is smoking in the car. Jamie also enrolls in school with no verification and people just give her information. This is played for laughs and it worked. What I like is that this isn’t being preachy about it. Jamie makes offhanded comments and I’ll credit Shipka’s delivery there. As someone who was born in 87 and grew up with movies from the 80’s and 90’s, I remember things being different. We are seeing a Gen-Z go back and have her mind blown. It just worked before things ruined how it was done. I don’t even have an issue with the changes, but I love how it is handled here.

Let’s then go into the rest of the characters. Something this does well in showing us characters as adults before we go into the past to meet them as teens. I love the interactions between Jamie with her parents and then with the teen counterparts. She has her idea of them but didn’t realize what they were like as teens. Looking back on how I acted in the past, I felt that. We also get this with Lauren, Sheriff Kara Lim, Randy Finkle, Doug Summers and Chris. I’ll even pull in the acting here. I’ve already credited Shipka. Mawema is good as her friend. I liked the 80s teens of Holt, Charlie Gillespie, Liberato, Johnson, Chin-Salvo, Diaz, Ella Choi, Jeremy Paul, Nathaniel Appaih and Nicholas Lloyd. I’ll also credit adults here of Munro, Potts, Bowen and Kimberly Huie, to just name some. The acting is good across the board. It is fun to see the baseline of the parents and then meet them as they were, especially Jamie’s parents seeming so nice when they were bullies as teens.

Then to the other side of what I look for and that is in filmmaking. The kills are basic for a slasher film. That is fine though as this is more about the lofty science behind it. The killer uses a knife. I thought that this did go brutal at times and I wasn’t expecting that. They rely more on CGI than practical, but since we don’t focus on the kills as much, that is fine. I also like that they don’t linger too much on science, even though that drives the tension. This has good cinematography. I love them capturing the feel of the 80s and things that get incorporated into Jamie trying to get home. Other than that, the soundtrack was solid for a similar reason. There are great songs used here that made me smile. One last thing as well, I love the look of the killer. They are wearing a Max Headroom mask. I feel like these fits in something that happens, landing the killer in the past that I appreciated as well. It is a creepy mask for sure.

In conclusion, this is a fun slasher movie as I’ve said. This is falling in line with a trend now of redoing premises with a slasher twist. I’d say this is one of the more successful ones though. The acting here is good across the board. How they use the basic premise and mix in the slasher elements worked for me. This is a well-made movie. I thought they do a great job at capturing the vibe and feel of the past. The only thing would be I wish they would have ramped up the kills a bit more. This doesn’t ruin it though. I had a blast here and would recommend giving this a watch.


My Rating: 8 out of 10