Totally Killer is an Amazon Original horror-comedy about a teenager who travels back in time to uncover the serial killer who terrorised her town in the 80s, killing many of her own mother’s friends. The film is directed by Nahnchatka Khan who directed Always Be My Maybe.
What’s Going On?
In the 80s Pam was a Queen Bee Mean Girl who was targeted by a serial killer who murdered three of her friends over the course of several days. The killer was never caught. Jumping to the present day her daughter Jamie deals with typical teenage life in a town made famous by a serial killer and a mother who takes the safety of her daughter very seriously. When the killer returns and kills Pam in the present Jamie travels back in time to the original murders, trying to stop them, solve the case and save her mother.
In Front Of The Camera
The central character is Jamie, played by Kiernan Shipka, probably best known for her role as Sally Draper in Mad Men, where she regularly upstaged the rest of the cast with her brilliant acting. Pam, Jamie’s mother, is played by Julie Bowen in the present day and Olivia Holt in the 80s. Julie Bowen will be known to millions as Claire Dunphy in Modern Family and Olivia Holt starred as Dagger, in Cloak & Dagger.
Shipka is great, shifting from annoyance to bemusement to horror at the way the 1980s were, as well as showing a lot of emotion. The actors who play the 80s are also lots of fun, Holt and her three friends standing as examples of a more fun and blunt age – or crueller and more selfish, depending on your point of view.
Does It Work?
Totally Killer is a ridiculous film but it is aware of this. The central premise of Jamie’s high school best friend managing to build a time machine is stretching credulity to impossible demands. If you cannot accept this leap of oddness this may not be the film for you.
The film is parodying two film genres – slasher horror and time travel movies. Back To The Future is repeatedly referenced as well as the various problems time travel causes, best elucidated by referencing more time travel films. Scream is another film that is referenced, already a film that is wrapped up in meta-commentary of slasher horror films. And then the film is also parodying 80s movies, or perhaps just the 80s. The Gen Z Jamie is appalled by much of what she sees and hears – casual racism, homophobia and misogyny amongst them, and even when she directly calls it out the 80s teens will essentially admit that’s what it is – they just don’t care. The weight of all of these parodies and references does threaten to implode the whole film and it is by no means completely staving off the implosion. Another feature which I’m sure is intentional but not entirely successful is the amount of people who are hinted at being the killer – just about everyone apart from Jamie and the actual victims has a suspicion of killer thrown on them.
The film doesn’t add a great deal to horror but it does some stuff that I’ve rarely seen in films about time-travel – things like the consequences of the changes actually mattering, how those in the “Present” see things change as Jamie changes the “Past”. The whole time travel situation is not neatly wrapped up.
If you can get past some of the more absurd parts of it and can get on board with a lot of pop culture references Totally Killer is a lot of fun and can be very funny. Horror comedy as a genre can be very difficult but the film strikes a good balance, and while perhaps never genuinely scary the film has good moments of tension. The serial killer’s premise, that he stabs his victims sixteen times, leads to some pretty brutal murder scenes.
Totally Killer is a silly film and its premise and plot shake under the most gentle of inspections but it is a funny and enjoyable film with some great moments.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)