Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Liana Liberato, Kelcy Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Troy L. Johnson, Charlie Gillespie, Jonathan Potts, Lochlyn Munro, Randall Park, and Julie Bowen
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
This film has been reviewed by Nick and Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of Fantastic Fest 2023.
Most people’s opinions of Totally Killer are likely to be very age dependent. For me, I was underwhelmed. Some aspects work: I had no complaints performance-wise (Troy L. Johnson is a highlight), and the Gen-Z comments are initially clever. However, some aspects do not work: the comedy as a whole, how overplayed the jokes became (see: Gen Z comments), and how generic the killer was. There’s also a fine line between homage and rip-off, and Killer tows that line on multiple occasions. It's as if a Disney Channel Original Movie had adult language - think more Halloweentown than Happy Death Day, which surely wasn’t the intended reaction.
Totally Killer does absolutely nothing to reinvent the wheel, sporting its obvious influences…including Scream, Hot Tub Time Machine, Back to the Future, and The Final Girls…like a meta badge of honor, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a moderate amount of fun to be had. Admittedly, the slew of “woke Gen-Zer can’t believe how ‘problematic’ the 80s were" jokes eventually wear thin and the ending is somewhat predictable, but there is enough charm and playful slasher movie tropes to entertain fans of the genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch this Halloween, you could certainly do worse.
Although Totally Killer doesn’t totally reinvent the horror wheel, it does a great job of taking inspiration from classic slashers like Halloween and Scream. Its meta script results in a fun time for all this spooky season, not to mention that it helps elevate Kiernan Shipka's performance of Jamie, who feels like a modern-day female version of Marty McFly from Back to the Future. The movie can feel predictable at times, though, which is a detriment, overall.
Totally Killer is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, but has the obvious fingerprints of its producer, Jason Blum. Overall, it’s a black comedy slasher film that takes advantage of its late 80s setting by giving the more nostalgic viewers (“older” might be another word) some comedic looks into the past. As far as Blumhouse productions go, this latest film is above average, but that doesn’t say much given their history. Its formulaic nature lacks the shock factor of its more successful sub-genre competitors, but it’s still entertaining; you can safely add this to the list of date night movies to enjoy on the couch.
Totally Killer should be a lot better than it is considering the premise is basically Back to the Future meets Halloween, with plenty of homages and references to both. There is a great film in here somewhere, but it is consistently let down by an inadequate script, clunky dialogue, and maddeningly stupid characters, all of which lead to a nonsensical yet still predictable ending. Totally Killer is stuck being a horror comedy that is neither funny nor scary, yet is still filled with charm and more than its fair share of fun moments. However, it could have been so much more.
Totally Killer isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. The writing mostly relies on surface-level observations regarding the Gen-X/Gen-Z cultural divide, which quickly become repetitive. The jokes are uninspired too, rarely going further than “wow, you definitely wouldn’t be able to say that today,” and Kiernan Shipka’s performance doesn’t do much to improve the material. A horror-comedy is usually only as strong as its lead, and Shipka’s comedic timing and delivery leave a lot to be desired. The mystery at the heart of Killer is occasionally intriguing, but it isn’t satisfying enough to make up for the lack of laughs.