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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Totally Killer (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 26


Starring Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Randall Park, Lochlyn Munro, Charlie Gillespie, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Jeremy Monn-Djasgnar, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Ella Choi, Nathaniel Appiah, Jonathan Potts, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasgnar and Nathaniel Appiah.

Screenplay by David Matalon & Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D'Angelo.

Directed by Nahnatchka Khan.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 106 minutes. Rated R.

It’s funny to imagine the pitch meeting for Totally Killer. “Well, it’s a slasher horror film about a masked killer targeting high school mean girls… And did we mention that it’s also a post-modern comedy? Oh, and also, it’s about time travel.”

Totally Killer has so many balls in the air at once that it is kind of shocking that it is as good it turns out to be.

With a relatively unknown young cast – lead Kiernan Shipka has a following for playing Sabrina the teenaged witch in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale and her mom is played by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen – Totally Killer is a near complete surprise. And it’s a good surprise.

Now to be completely honest, Totally Killer works better as a comedy than as a horror – the killer sections in fact tend to be the soft spots here – but it’s a smart and funny film. And, let’s face it, most horror films since the original Scream work comic beats into their scripts.

It is all smartly and snappily directed by television scribe Nahnatchka Khan – best known for creating the quirky TV series Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 and Fresh off the Boat. (Her Fresh off the Boat star Randall Park has a funny supporting part as an ineffectual sheriff.)

It’s a terribly high concept idea. Jamie (Shipka) is a teenager who is in complete revolt from her overprotective do-good mother Pam (Bowen). It seems that back in the 1980s when mom was 16 (Jamie’s age now…), three of her friends were stabbed to death by “The Sweet Sixteen Killer” – and Pam has been expecting him to return ever since.

The killer has become something of a local celebrity – inspiring “Sweet Sixteen Killer” tours and Halloween costumes – but he has not been heard of since the original killings 35 years earlier.

And of course when Pam’s daughter turns 16, the killer returns, with filled with violent intents. Naturally he targets Jamie. Jamie’s best friend has been trying unsuccessfully to build a time machine from an old photo booth for the local science fair, based upon her mother’s long-ago notes, because of course she is. As the killer tries to get Jamie, she hides in the time machine. As the killer stabs at her in the booth, his violent stabbing inadvertently causes the machine to work.

Jamie arrives in 1987, on the day that the killings are about to start. (This is not as random as that may sound, she and her friend programmed in the date while the time machine was not operational. Now Jamie has to find the victims and save them, to figure out who the killer was, and to figure out how to get back to her own time. That last part is particularly tricky, as the time machine runs on Wi-Fi, which does not exist in 1987.

Also, it turns out, she has to keep her teen parents – who are much wilder than their future selves would suggest – from hooking up yet, because they are not supposed to get together until after they finish college.

Of course she quickly finds that telling the truth to alert the police and the potential victims of the danger, is not going to work. Even she recognizes that comparing herself to Marty McFly in Back to the Future to try to explain what happened makes her sound nuts. So she decides to act like a new student – recently moved there from Prince Edwards Island, Canada, of all places – and befriend her mother and the victims, who turn to be the local mean girl clique called the Mollys. (They idolize Molly Ringwald and tend to dress in outfits that match her different film wardrobes.)

With many fits and starts and roadblocks, she finally befriends teen Pam (Olivia Holt) and goes about trying to save everyone. But the more she tries, the more she slightly changes history, and she fails at stopping the killings.

The fish out of water aspects of a modern teen in the 1980s never fails to connect. Shipka frustratedly scolding her 1980s counterpoints with things like “unwanted touch” or “you can’t call her that” make for comic gold. Dealing with things like keggers and dodgeball and nude hot tubbing make for some wonderfully awkward humor.

Totally Killer also gets bonus points for having a major sequence in one of my favorite forgotten carnival rides, the Gravitron (redubbed the Quantum Drop here). As Wikipedia explains: “The ride is completely enclosed, with 48 padded panels lining the inside wall. Riders lean against these panels, which are angled back. As the ride rotates, the rider experiences a centrifugal force pointing outward from the ride's center. This force, along with the slant in the walls, allows riders to be completely supported by the walls, without their feet touching the ground. The ride can rotate at a maximum frequency of 24 rpm. It reaches that frequency in less than 20 seconds…. At this point, the riders are experiencing centrifugal force equivalent to three times the force of gravity.”

If Totally Killer somehow becomes responsible for the resurrection of the Gravitron regaining popularity in carnivals, then it will not just be a terrifically fun film, but it will have done a great service for humanity.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: October 6, 2023.


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