Halloween meets Back to the Future in this engagingly playful and self-aware film called ‘Totally Killer.’ Directed by Nahnatchka Khan (known for Always Be My Maybe and Fresh Off the Boat), ‘Totally Killer’ offers a rare blend of fish-out-of-water comedy with time travel sci-fi that works surprisingly well; horror may not quite hold your interest quite so strongly; nonetheless ‘Totally Killer’ keeps audiences interested throughout.
Kiernan Shipka’s captivating presence is at the core of this film’s appeal; she expertly handles snappy dialogue and navigates its shifting tonality with ease. David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo’s script requires her to go from being an angry teenager to grieving daughter to an investigative investigator with ease and she does so effortlessly.
Story begins on Halloween Night 2023 when Jamie Hughes (Shipka) prepares to go out with friends. Her mother Pam (Julie Bowen), however, remains worried due to lingering scars left from the Sweet Sixteen Killings from 35 years prior. However, when Jamie accidentally time travels backward to 1987 she believes she may have the power to prevent these murders and change history forever.
But things don’t go according to plan in ‘Totally Killer.’ A common theme throughout is how no one listens to Jamie, including Randall Park as an amusingly inept town sheriff, when it comes to warning about danger in town. Jamie experiences culture shock as she deals with everything from casual misogyny and smoking culture – refreshingly specific observations which avoid generalized generalizations about that time period.
The film’s soundtrack stands out, moving away from the typical 80s movie soundtrack by featuring tracks like Bananarama’s “Venus,” Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play”.
Jamie must infiltrate both her potential victims and her teenage mother’s clique of mean girls led by Olivia Holt’s incredible portrayal of young Pam; Olivia brings both humor and cruelty into this role, whil Jamie attempts to warn of impending danger with horror movie tropes but no one takes her seriously.
“Totally Killer” makes smart storytelling choices, often juxtaposing present day with 1985 through Jamie’s eyes, but also provides an insightful examination of small town life and peaking high school can create an echo chamber effect, trapping individuals in their past lives and past relationships. Shipka’s deadpan responses shatter any illusion that life in 1987 was easier or better.
“Totally Killer’s weak point lies with its slasher scenes, lacking finesse in staging and editing. Furthermore, identity and motive for murdering stand in contrast with resourceful final girl who comes through and saves the day – yet nevertheless keeps audiences engrossed through its humorous plotline and Shipka’s superb performance.”