Sort of a cross between Scream and Happy Death Day, Amazon’s new comedy/horror slasher Totally Killer is, like, a total scream.
Falling more on the comedy side than anything truly scary (that’s not a bad thing), this new film from Always Be My Maybe director Nahnatchka Khan and a trio of writers is one of the freshest hybrids to come out since Werewolves Within.
The premise of the film follows Jamie Hughes (“Sabrina’s” Kiernan Shipka), a rebellious teenager whose mother Pam (Julie Bowen) famously survived a serial killer in 1987 who offed her friends, one by one, over three nights around Halloween. Dubbed the “Sweet Sixteen Killer” (as all the victims were 16), the murderer was never caught, which has kept Pam very nervous, especially around All Hallow’s Eve.
Since it’s been over three decades, Jamie is apathetic about all of this and just wants to go to a concert for Halloween. Her mom says no, but she gives in after some negotiating and a little guilt.
Whelp! Thirty-five years later, the Sweet Sixteen Killer is back and offs the victim who got away. Tormented by her behavior toward her mother, Jamie will do whatever she can to find the killer and bring him to justice. Or, you know, kill them. But little does she know that her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) is building a time machine for the school’s science fair (as one would do), and when Jamie is attacked, she finds herself back in 1987 – just in time for the first murder to take place.
Thinking she can avert disaster and save her mother in the future, Jamie plans to off the killer before he does any damage. She seeks out her bestie’s science nerd mother, Lauren (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson), and they attempt to figure out how to carry out her plan.
Of course, during all this, Jamie has to deal with the teenage version of her mother (Olivia Holt), who is sort of a jerk, not to mention her mean-girl friends. Not only that? She sees almost every adult in her small town as moronic teenagers, giving her a new perspective on their adult selves and how much we grow up from high school to middle-age.
What makes Totally Killer truly sparkle here is the banter between the characters. Jamie’s fish-out-of-water reactions to the behaviors of teenagers and adults back in the ‘80s is a lot of fun. With her “woke” sensibilities heightened, she is alarmed by things like the lack of security, the rampant misogyny, and the incessant bullying of the teen’s peers. “The eighties are wild,” she mutters under her breath.
Add in Jamie’s repeated attempts to stop the killer from carrying out what she knows will happen, and you get a load of comedic suspense that keeps you giddily on the edge of your seat.
Special note has to be given to the production design, which gets settings right and doesn’t overdo it with the ‘80s clothes and hair. While the styles might still be to Gen Z and the Millennials, for the most part, it’s pretty accurate and doesn’t give in to the over-the-top dayglo spandex that younger generations assume all ‘80s kids wore.
Shipka has never been better here. Her dry humor and spot-on reactions keep the audience rolling and nodding in agreement. While the film’s comedy does call for everything to be a wee bit exaggerated, all of the actors do an excellent job of being heightened while still seeming like real people. And I’m not sure if this was intended, but all of the “teen” actors in the ’80s segments look like they are in their mid-twenties (and probably are), which pretty much reflects the teen movies of the period.
While some of the time-travel explanations have their logic stretched, the genre makes for an original comedic slasher. With hilarious one-liners, clever situations, and characters who aren’t just stupid kids waiting to be slaughtered, Totally Killer is, well, totally awesome.