Totally Killer

Oct 4, 2023 | Posted by in Movies
Totally Killer

A teen is transported back in time to the night of a series of brutal killings and works with her own mother to stop them in Nahnatchka Khan’s Totally Killer.

Blumhouse has excelled in creating unique riffs on the slasher genre. Happy Death Day impressively combined the time loop concept with a slasher movie, its sequel Happy Death Day 2U built on the first film with a sci-fi narrative containing slasher elements and Freaky combined the body swap content with a slasher. It may seem obvious to combine two familiar concepts and have fun with the potential that provides and Blumhouse certainly aren’t the first to come up with that but delivering something engaging isn’t easy and they consistently achieved delivering something entertaining that felt both fresh and familiar. Totally Killer is the latest attempt to bolt another familiar idea onto the slasher genre with time travel being the latest flavour.

Totally Killer

There’s always money to be made

Totally Killer is broadly Back to the Future as a slasher movie; something the film doesn’t try to deny with the reference being acknowledged very early on and knowledge of the film forming the basis of some of the narrative. Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) recognises that she’s living out something very similar to the plot of that film and even uses it as shorthand to describe her situation to willing listeners. Beyond that, the reference and comparison is superficial as Totally Killer works to blaze its own trail outside of its influences.

The setup of a small town -not unlike Haddonfield in Halloween– defined by a trio of brutal killings in its history works well as the film efficiently establishes the details of that night and its effect on the town. There are those trying to profit from telling its story and an undercurrent of paranoia persists in the adults who lived through the event. The latter in particular creates a barrier between the parents and children as the parents are very protective of their kids out of fear of a reprisal of the murders and the kids feel smothered by parents who are fixated on their protection. It naturally feeds into the notion of time travel providing an opportunity for Jamie to understand why her parents are the way they are and gain a new perspective on them.

Jamie is a strong protagonist for this sort of story. She’s intelligent and assertive without being obnoxious and has a wide array of cultural knowledge that naturally connects to the film’s self-awareness. Unfortunately, this self-awareness does result in direct calling out of the comparisons rather than allowing the audience to make the connection. There’s a little too much handholding that sometimes lets the film down, It appears to pat itself on the back by directly calling out the references it’s making. It isn’t a massive issue but there are some glaringly obvious references that would have been more effective had they gone unacknowledged, particularly when they only make sense to one character.

Totally Killer

Mean Girls 1987 edition

Totally Killer spends most of its running time playing with Jamie as the fish out of water in an era before she existed. She is frequently taken aback by the differences in politics between the two time periods and the proliferation of terms that have since become unacceptable to utter. It’s expected but works well to illustrate how much the world has changed in a relatively short time and highlights how different the people she knows were as teenagers.

It’s most prominently explored through Jamie’s relationship with her teenage mother. Pam (Olivia Holt) differs greatly from her adult counterpart played by Julie Bowen. Jamie is struck by how carefree her teenage mother is and has to deal with the fact that her mother was once a teenager with a very active libido as well as a nasty streak that isn’t evident in her experience of Pam as an adult. Kiernan Shipka and Olivia Holt have excellent chemistry that enhances any scene they share.

The film struggles to show the difference in Pam at the two stages of her life. Julie Bowen’s version of the character doesn’t appear enough to create a defined character that Olivia Holt can subvert. Jamie’s perspective is relied on to detail the similarities and differences rather than the viewer being invited to recognise them beyond the obvious details such as the cautious adult who is a responsible mother contrasting with the irresponsible teenager more concerned with a good time than her safety. Olivia Holt’s performance is impressive and varied but there isn’t a strong enough basis for comparison to make it clear she is sharing a role with Julie Bowen.

Totally Killer

The 80s are a scream

As a slasher movie, Totally Killer is competent yet unremarkable. The kills aren’t especially inventive but they are executed well and feed into the time travel story by providing surprises that counter Jamie’s future knowledge. It’s more of a comedy than a horror and the slasher sequences reflect that. The buildup also compliments the comedic slant as the teenagers act like characters in an 80s slasher movie in that they make decisions that make them ideal fodder for a knife-wielding maniac. Jamie acts as the voice of common sense imploring them to stop making fatal mistakes and there’s plenty of comedy to be found in how flippant they are with their own safety despite recent murders happening near them. It’s all very tongue in cheek and an effective commentary on the mechanics of the 80s slasher movies Totally Killer pays homage to without being condescending as the characters are intelligent, thoughtful and capable in their own right.

Totally Killer doesn’t quite manage to be more than the sum of its parts. It takes a lot of storytelling shortcuts, the mystery of the killer’s idenity isn’t all that interesting and it doesn’t have as much fun with the time travel gimmick as it could but it is consistently entertaining, makes use of its constituent elements really well in places and offers a fun contrast between modern teenagers and those who lived in the 80s. It needed more of a push to achieve true greatness but it’s a breezy watch that will delight those looking for a fun riff on the slasher genre.

Totally Killer

Ready for action


An entertaining riff on the slasher genre with a strong cast that doesn’t quite manage to be more than the sum of its parts.

  • Totally Killer


Kneel Before…

  • a fun riff on the slasher genre
  • efficiently establishing the details that will be contrasted when Jamie travels into the past
  • Jamie as a capable protagonist for this sort of story
  • Kiernan Shipka and Olivia Holt’s chemistry
  • mining comedy from the differences between the two time periods
  • well executed kills
  • the teenagers behaving like characters in an 80s slasher movie and having Jamie being the voice of common sense
  • capable comedy throughout


Rise Against…

  • failing to show the similarities and differences in the two versions of Pam
  • unnecessarily calling out specific references instead of trusting the audience to understand
  • the uninteresting mystery surrounding the killer
  • some storytelling shortcuts


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