Prime Video’s new comedy-horror movie is short on laughs and gasps.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
The low-budget confines of Blumhouse movies mean that any idea can become a movie, including bold original visions like Whiplash or Get Out. Unfortunately, it also means a lot of subpar stuff can easily get the green light. The latest example is the new Amazon/Blumhouse collaboration, Totally Killer. Hailing from director Nahnatchka Khan, Totally Killer dares to ask a question no reasonable soul was pondering. “What if Happy Death Day and Hot Tub Time Machine had a tedious baby?” Buckle up, horror devotees. Here comes yet another dose of 1980s nostalgia and some frighteningly lousy editing.
Totally Killer begins in the modern world. The murder of three high school girls 35 years earlier continues to define the small town of Vernon. Teenager Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) knows all about those horrors thanks to her overprotective mom, Pam (Julie Bowen). When the slasher, known as the Sweet Sixteen Killer, seemingly returns, however, it appears that Pam might not be so overprotective after all. While evading this bloodthirst adversary, Jamie accidentally gets stuck in her best friend’s photo booth time machine and transported back to 1987.
That strands Jamie in the year Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” dominated the airwaves and just before the Sweet Sixteen Killer began his grisly rampage. Our hero is now determined to stop the slayings from ever happening. It’s a plan that eventually brings her face to face with a teenage version of her mom (played by Olivia Holt). Pam turns out to be a much rowdier and meaner teen than she led her daughter to believe. To best the Michael Myers knock-off arriving any day, though, all that rebellious behavior needs reining in.
Early in Totally Killer, Jamie’s best pal Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) casually reveals she transformed a photo booth into a time-travel device for the upcoming science fair. It’s a revelation the story breezes right past, one of the smartest flourishes from writers David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo. This early moment suggests a horror/comedy where anything and everything can happen. The most absurd developments will be just another part of the tapestry. Unfortunately, the rest of this slasher film opts for predictability over entertaining outlandishness.
Totally Killer especially registers as a disposable exercise once Jamie finds herself back in 1987. The previously sullen teenager transforms into a snarky pop culture-savvy protagonist bursting with oddball personality traits that go nowhere, like a high tolerance for weed. Meanwhile, the choppy editing and rote cinematography echo the visual norms of a Disney Channel Original Movie. If you ever wanted a typical Ryan Reynolds character to intrude on a slightly bloodier installment of the Camp Rock franchise, Totally Killer will satisfy your cinematic bloodlust. Otherwise, you’ll have to grit your teeth through many stale references to Back to the Future, Scream, and RoboCop.
The lack of imagination in Totally Killer further asserts itself when the killing starts. As the masked slaughterer hunts down teenagers, Khan opts for brief bursts of point-of-view photography. At best, they function as a hollow echo of similar shots from classic slasher films like Halloween. The lack of variety in the kills ensures that the story gets really repetitive really fast. Once you see one slaying here, you’ve effectively seen them all. The Sweet Sixteen Killer doesn’t even have a super cool slasher villain mask, the ultimate insult! He looks like Max Headroom with a dash of Johnny Cage thrown in for good measure.
If you ever wanted a typical Ryan Reynolds character to intrude on a slightly bloodier installment of the Camp Rock franchise, Totally Killer will satisfy your cinematic bloodlust.
If there are any saving graces to the proceedings, they’re the performances of Totally Killer’s cast. Shipka, even while weighed down by clumsy writing, still manages to wring a handful of amusing line deliveries out of the subpar material. More impressively are the tiny parallel details in the turns from Mawema and Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, playing a teenage version of Amelia’s mother. The way this pair of performances deftly mirror one another (especially in their body language) is the most impressive exploitation of Totally Killer’s time travel hook.
Given the deluge of slasher movies (and slasher movie parodies), some fleetingly diverting pieces of acting aren’t enough. It’s a horror/comedy with little creativity in its killings and a little wit in its humor. Simply acknowledging the existence of blowjobs (solely through dialogue) and that people sometimes ingest weed is this feature’s idea of a “transgressive” good time. Blumhouse’s anything-goes production model has produced many better gory fright fests than Totally Killer. Give yourself a treat this Halloween. Check out superior titles like Happy Death Day instead.
Totally Killer is walking slowly but steadily towards its victims on Prime Video now.