I was interested when I first saw Totally Killer was being added to Hulu. Although I don’t know enough about her to call myself a fan, I had enjoyed Kieran Shipka in fare such as The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Sabrina (and her portrayal in the dubbed version of When Marnie Was There), and from what I have seen, she is a charming and likable actor which is about all I want out of a film like this. Although I wasn’t familiar with Nahnatchaka Khan who directed the film, it turns out I had seen a lot of her work growing up, with credits in series’ like Recess, Malcolm in the Middle, and What’s New, Scooby Doo, to name a few. Both names, upon taking a closer look, feel right for this type of film – this type of film being a high-concept teen slasher film that blends elements of the horror genre with time-travel.
If I would have heard the concept of Totally Killer only about eight years ago, I would have thought it was a very unique and different approach to an old-school formula. It still is, kind of, but the idea has already been done a couple times already now.
Basically, in the eighties, a serial killer dubbed the Sweet Sixteen Killer ran amuck and killed a few teenagers, and now, in 2023, he is back and at it again. In his encore performance, the Sweet Sixteen Killer manages to kill one of the survivors. In Totally Killer, the film follows Jamie, the daughter of said survivor, who, through some shenanigans, travels back to 1987. Now, she finds herself paired off with a younger version of her mother, and seeks to stop the Sweet Sixteen Killer to save her mother in the present.
If the concept sounds at all complicated or strange to you, it’s worth mentioning that it feels simple enough in the actual film. I wouldn’t think about it too hard. This is definitely a fun type of film, and I daresay we need more of them.
The obvious comparison I would make is to The Final Girls, a film which sees a young girl sent back in time to a 1987 film with her mother as an actress. It is a little different, but it’s, for the most, a very similar film. I would say Totally Killer takes The Final Girls and mixes it thematically with Happy Death Day, another film from Blumhouse’s catalog.
As a film, Totally Killer checks off enough boxes to be a perfectly satiable film to watch with your friends on Halloween. Kieran is, as I anticipated, likable and the characters are goofy, absurd and don’t take themselves very seriously. The humor sometimes lands, but I’d daresay is more slight miss than hit.
There was a reason I distinguished this as a teen slasher film, and that is because is fits best stacked up against something like the Fear Street Trilogy. It’s fine, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of unique ideas or memorable moments to write home about.
Similar to Happy Death Day, the horror elements take a backseat, and that’s, in fact, even more so in this film. There is no suspenseful moments with our antagonist, who is wearing a Max Headroom, by the way, and so, it feels like it leaves a lot on the table in that regard. In these genre mishmashes, it can sometimes be difficult to decide which genre should be dominant – do you lean into comedy or do you lean into horror? With this film, with The Final Girls, with Freaky (another Blumhouse film that feels right at home with this), they all leaned into comedy. The same can be said for this film, the only difference is that the humor doesn’t land as it does in any of those films.
I also can’t help but feel like it doesn’t do enough with its concept. Yes, it’s similar to The Final Girls, but I believe the differences allowed enough wiggle room for the film to etch out its own unique identity. The Final Girls riffed on 1980s slasher films, particularly Friday the 13th and the dozens of camp slasher films that followed. That film wasn’t, in the traditional sense, a time-travel film (because it was about them traveling into a film). This film had the opportunity to have a lot of fun with the concept, and it, unfortunately, never gets out of second-gear. It pokes fun at the differences between now and the eighties, like how DNA evidence hadn’t been established yet or Jamie realizing her mother used to be a high school bully, but it doesn’t do very much with any of the ideas.
I would recommend it on the basis that it is an inoffensive, enjoyable, little slasher film.
For genre fans, I believe that should carry some weight for you (again though, horror is very much in the backseat). As much as I love slasher films, I recognize that every worthwhile film is a quiet miracle (compared to the hundreds and hundreds of godawful, cheap, cash-ins), and this film goes down smoothly. If you want something easy and fun to watch for the Halloween season, you won’t be disappointed! Unfortunately, the ingredients it borrows from better films, it doesn’t use to make a very interesting new recipe.