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“Totally Killer” Lives It Up

Film poster: “Totally Killer”

Totally Killer (Nahnatchka Khan, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.

What do Back to the Future, Scream, and Mean Girls have in common? They all come together in Totally Killer, the new film from director Nahnatchka Khan (Always Be My Maybe). And though the movie has its share of problems—including the usual ones that plague time-travel stories—it still manages to prove entertaining for most of its runtime.

35 years ago, in the days leading up to Halloween, three girls, all friends, were brutally killed by an unknown masked assailant. Now, on Halloween 2023, the 16-year-old daughter of one of their classmates wonders what all the big deal was about. Why does her mom fret so much before she goes out for the night?

Kiernan Shipka in TOTALLY KILLER ©Amazon

That teenage girl is Jamie Hughes (Kiernan Shipka, Wildflower), and before she knows it, life will spiral out of control, past and present colliding in tragic, and very messy, ways. The first horror to strike is an attack on her own mother, Pam (Julie Bowen, The Fallout). According to local podcaster Chris Dubasage (Jonathan Potts, Anon), this means that the murderer must be back. What to do?

Fortunately, Jamie’s best friend, Amelia Creston (Kelcey Mawema, The Friendship Game), is something of a science genius, following in the footsteps of her mother, Lauren, whose old schematics for a time machine she thinks she has perfected. Together, the girls work feverishly to finish it, as the killer draws closer. Just at the last moment, Jamie is propelled back to the late 1980s.

l-r: Kiernan Shipka and Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson in TOTALLY KILLER ©Amazon

Ok, so maybe there’s a little bit of Hot Tub Time Machine here, too, though thankfully without the bro-ness and misogyny (there’s plenty of sexism on display by characters, but none of it celebrated). The jokes at the expense of the late Reagan era are funny but not belabored. Most of the comic shenanigans come when Jamie meets her teenage mom (Olivia Holt, Status Update), only to realize that she is/was a mean bully. Good thing younger Lauren (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Sex Appeal) is around for support (and to rebuild the time machine that, of course, broke in transit).

What’s novel about the time aspect here is that we cut back and forth between Jamie and Lauren in the 1980s and Amelia today, despite the fact that whatever is happening back then will surely alter its future (and it does). Khan and her screenwriters have a lot of fun with this idea, even if none of it makes sense. They also tackle the normal conundrums posed by these kinds of inevitable loops, throwing in some new twists. Again, the logic is strained, but that doesn’t mean we don’t often have a good time.

Still from TOTALLY KILLER ©Amazon

Comedy notwithstanding, this is also a thriller and a horror film. There is blood, and people die. But that’s what we’re here for, right? And the suspense is fairly well developed, with surprises that actually surprise now and then. The cast is very game, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Despite these many positives, the plot is nevertheless predictable in too many ways, and the dialogue often disappoints. Not every film has to amaze in order to engage, however. There’s enough here for a decent addition to the October’s seasonal cinematic themes. Boo!

Still from TOTALLY KILLER ©Amazon

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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