Synopsis: When the infamous “Sweet Sixteen Killer” returns 35 years after his first murder spree to claim another victim, 17-year-old Jamie accidentally travels back to 1987, determined to stop the killer before he can start.
Stars: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Charlie Gillespie, Lochlyn Munro, Troy L. Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasgnar, Nathaniel Appiah, Jonathan Potts, Randall Park
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Nostalgia for the ‘80s is, like, so in right now, and if the continued success of horror at the box office is any indication, appetite for screams hasn’t faded even with a sharp decline in quality product output. While we wait for the next installment of the Scream franchise or the anticipated Friday the 13th television series, viewers must keep their eyes and ears open for what might be a fun diversion as a new addition to their Halloween marathons. With Hulu’s annual Huluween promising several weeks of original content, Amazon’s Prime Video has gotten into the game with Totally Killer, a retro time-traveling slasher yarn you can stream from home.
Another Halloween has arrived in Vernon, a small town forever linked with the Sweet Sixteen Killer who decades earlier murdered three teens before vanishing. Pam Hughes (Julie Bowen, Life of the Party) won’t forget those devasting days when she lost her three best friends and sense of safety. Her daughter Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) is tired of her overprotective mother. She wants a semi-normal October 31st with her bookish friend Amelia, who has been working on a special science fair project. However, when the masked killer makes several reappearances and Jamie winds up hiding in Amelia’s project, a time-traveling photo booth, she gets sent back to 1987 before any murders have taken place.
With some Peggy Sue Got Married meets Back to the Future, Jamie crosses paths with her mom (Olivia Holt), a Queen Bee Meanie, and her three doomed friends. Armed with knowledge of the future, she attempts to get closer to her future parents, trying to keep them safe while also hoping to prevent any deaths, including hers, along the way. However, arriving in town as an outsider just as heinous murders start to take place makes the job more complicated, and the serial slasher is getting closer to Jamie and those she is desperate to save.
If you’ve been willing to accept that a dream killer can off you as you nap or that a boy who drowned in Crystal Lake could suddenly turn up grown and indestructible for the next forty years, then swallowing the central conceit of Totally Killer shouldn’t be that out of reach. Screenwriters Jen D’Angelo, David Matalon, and Sasha Perl-Raver don’t fully climb out of the wormholes that most time travel movies fall into. Still, director Nahnatchka Khan keeps things moving at such a clip you’re not likely to notice how shaky most of it is. Instead, Khan provides room to focus on some gory kills, a killer with an identity that’s hard to figure out, and an abundance of throwback humor that is often as brutal as the deaths.
The movie also benefits from an actor like Shipka leading the charge forward. There’s a certain tonal energy Shipka brings to the character that doesn’t fully push you away by her aloofness at the beginning, making it easier to enter into her orbit as she experiences the bizarre situation she finds herself in. It can be excused if she doesn’t take in the enormity of the situation (time travel to 1987 would send me right to the nearest mall or a Sam Goody) because she doesn’t seem that into anything in the modern world either. The screenwriters get major kudos for an ongoing Molly Ringwald joke, which only gets funnier if you are a fan of her deep-cut films.
Is Totally Killer high-brow entertainment made with razor-sharp precision? Unquestionably, no, and to enter it thinking that’s what you’ll get would be your fault. It’s a sour Warhead of a comedic slasher, one that will make you pucker early thanks to its clunky set-up but eventually levels out to a palatable sugar rush with unexpected flavor.