Thirty-five years after the shocking murder of three teens, the infamous “Sweet Sixteen Killer” returns on Halloween night to claim a fourth victim. Seventeen-year-old Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) ignores her overprotective mom’s (Julie Bowen) warning and comes face-to-face with the masked maniac and, on the run for her life, accidentally time travels back to 1987, the year of the original killings. Forced to navigate the unfamiliar and outrageous culture of the 1980s, Jamie teams up with her teen mom (Olivia Holt) to take down the killer once and for all, before she’s stuck in the past forever.
Totally Killer is not totally anything. Its time travel plot is basically Back to the Future. Its masked killer is Halloween in style. Its self-awareness is very much Scream. The key is how the screenwriters (David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo) are able to juggle all those genres without dropping the ball. For a disposable piece of Halloween scariness made for Amazon Prime, it’s spooky and enjoyable enough.
Kiernan Shipka as Jamie gets the Marty McFly honors- to go back in time to keep her mother from being a future victim of the killer, as well as keeping her parents (Julie Bowen and Lochlyn Munro) from mating prematurely, so she can be born at the proper time and in the right body. The fresh twist, her perfect mother has a mean girl past, her square father- a bad boy one. Less fresh, the details and the sequencing of the murders are rearranged.
What does travel well, the future and past meshing- the clash between the Gen Z Jamie and Gen X sensibilities. Things that don’t travel well with future eyes- the smoking, the racists mascots, the misogynistic language. A particularly clever inversion has Jamie scarfing down a half dozen pot brownies and not getting a noticeable buzz, cause 1980’s weed is less potent than her typical pot gummies. “80’s weed sucks,” she exclaims disappointedly. The satire has a soft bite and never draws blood.
Totally Killer focus is on actual blood, both the bodily and genealogical kind. Jamie’s attempt to stop the murders by befriending the victims, hoping they make better choices, achieves nothing. It just changes when they happen. The killings are not overly gory. They’re inoffensive enough to allow parents to watch it with their teens.
The time travel plot holes are plastered over with a light touch. “You don’t start trying to invent time travel without considering the possibility that people from the future will need your help,”is the excuse one of the characters give as an explanation. Going with the flow in a time travel film is best experience with a brain in idle. Quantum physics complications are for the movie nerds to fret over. It only matters that Jamie return home.
The part that needs to work does- the relationship between Jamie and the teen version of her mom. Olivia Holt plays her with a wonderful modulation that generates sympathy for her mean girl self and the future good mother she will become. The adventure plot puts Jamie in the position of trying to protect the very same person whose protection she’ll shrug off 35 years later, and in doing so forces her to see her mom in a new light. The jokes may not always hit, but their relationship always does. It’s all surprisingly wholesome and affecting.
Totally Killer get a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+. it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.
- David Matalon
- Jen D’Angelo
- David Matalon
- Sasha Perl-Raver
- Jason Blum
- Adam Hendricks
- Greg Gilreath
- September 28, 2023(Fantastic Fest)
- October 6, 2023