Horror movie Totally Killer time-travels back to the '80s for retro fun
Horror films have tried every trick in the book to scare moviegoers over the years, so it’s only natural that originality is in short supply for new films. The new Prime Video film Totally Killer makes no bones about what films it’s cribbing from, although it does at least try to give a new spin to things that we’ve seen before.
Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) has the typical teenager-parent relationship with her mother, Pam (Julie Bowen), with the exception that Pam is still traumatized by the murder of three of her friends 36 years ago. When the so-called “Sweet Sixteen Killer” (so named because all his victims were 16 and he stabbed them 16 times each) seemingly strikes again, Jamie is on edge that he might go on another spree.
Naturally, she utilizes a makeshift time machine built by her genius friend, Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) to go back in time to 1987, determined to stop the killer before he ever starts. But to do so, she has to get in tight with the younger Pam (Olivia Holt) and her friends. In trying to help them from getting killed, she makes a few discoveries about her parents and others that drastically changes her perceptions of them.
Directed by Nanatchka Khan and written by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo, the film is 105 minutes of superficial fun. It never becomes a great entry into the genre, but it’s also eminently watchable the entire time. You don’t have to guess as to what films inspired the filmmakers, as they insert references to Scream and Back to the Future right into the script. There’s also a whiff of Big, with the time machine located in a photo booth at a dilapidated amusement park.
Whether that’s viewed as laziness or right in line with the lineage of Scream, which famously references other movies, is up to the individual viewer. In my mind, it all feels like a cheap knockoff, right down to the mask the killer wears, a human-esque one that’s kind of creepy, but nowhere close to the iconic one used in the Scream series.
Most of the entertainment value in the film comes from the recreation of the ‘80s fashion, and hairdos, and in how Jamie reacts to the laissez-faire attitudes of the era. Jaime trying to talk sense to a bunch of other teenagers who are mostly hellbent on getting high and having sex is the one part of the film that lands the most.
Shipka, who’s made a nice career for herself after coming to fame on Mad Men, makes for a great lead despite the so-so story she’s fronting. She commits to the bit fully, even when what she’s trying to sell is patently ridiculous. Holt also does well in support, going through a variety of scenarios with different emotional needs with ease. Bowen has limited screentime, but she perfected the character she plays here in her many years on Modern Family.
Halloween season brings all sorts of different horror-related movies out of the woodwork, and even though Totally Killer has almost nothing new to bring to the table, it’s a perfectly serviceable film to pass the time on an October weekend night.
Totally Killer is now streaming on Prime Video.