‘Totally Killer’ - An underwhelming yet amusing Slasher parody of ‘Back to the Future’.

Slasher meets time travel. A winning combo?

Jess Waller
4th November 2023
Image Source: Twitter @DiscussingFilm
Spooky season is upon us and if you are looking for something less serious (and not have too high expectations for) this Halloween, the new Amazon Prime original Totally Killer is utterly chaotic from start to finish. 

Totally Killer follows Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), a 17-year-old High School girl who begs to go out with her friends on Halloween night. Her mother Pam (Julie Bowen), however, is sceptical due to the brutal murder of her three best friends 35 years prior by the ‘Sweet Sixteen Killer’, an infamous slasher known for stabbing his victims 16 times and then disappearing. After Pam allows Jamie out that night, the ‘Sweet Sixteen Killer’ returns to claim his final victim, Jamie’s mother Pam. The film follows the newly grieving Jamie helping her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) in finishing the time machine her mother began to make in the 1980s and, following a series of unfortunate events, the time machine works sending Jamie back to 1987 to stop the “Sweet Sixteen Killer” and reveal their identity. 

Unfortunately, despite its potential and obvious predecessors, the film was underwhelming and mildly enjoyable at best. The most disappointing aspect was its predictable nature and the obvious ‘big reveal’ of the killer. Regardless of the writer's intent to mirror the audience’s subversion of expectations, we see in movies like Scream (1996), the film fails in doing so. The movie fixates on drawing a comparison between the character’s younger selves and their modern-day self by cutting forwards and backwards in time between eras throughout the movie. Due to the small town setting, this theoretically makes sense and appears to add value to the depth of the characters and their future/ past relationships. Yet, this combined with the fast-paced nature of the action, in turn, made the film not only gain a predictive quality about it, but also nullified some of the red herring characters. 

After watching the trailer, one factor I went into this movie really excited about was how the movie was not only going to portray but also iconify the 80s era. The movie echoes Back to the Future (1985)  even going as far as to have it as the first thing mentioned in the trailer: 

“Have you ever seen “Back to the Future”? Basically, I am living that movie right now.”

Jamie Hughes, Totally Killer

Therefore, I thought of how flawlessly and meticulously Robert Zemeckis portrayed the 1950s in Back to the Future. Marty Mcfly’s starkly contrasted look, design and costuming throughout the whole movie, from women’s long swing dresses to floral wallpaper, encapsulated the essence of 1955 America. Moreover, I thought of the iconic portrayal of the 1980s within Steve Pink’s Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)  and its use of bright colours, big hairdos and constant pop culture references so it was safe to say, cinematographically, there was a lot to live up to. Nonetheless, I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of any big '80s hairdos and the inclusion of modern colloquialisms such as “you’ve got this” that were not necessarily present in the 80s landscape. 

Although I did not feel completely transported into the decade, the movie does a fantastic job of showing the dichotomy between Jamie, the stereotypically scornful Gen-Zer and the fun-loving, laidback characters of the 1980s. This paved the way for the majority of the comedy and inventively created two different paces running in parallel: Jamie’s rush and the 1980s protagonists’ dawdle-esk nature. However, there was a fine line between comedy and overuse of the protagonist’s differing character as she constantly spoke at the other characters, correcting their wrongdoings and ‘judging’ them as if they were present-day people. This allows space for the argument that they were using her character as a tool to differentiate the 1980s from now, rather than using the multitude of cinematic techniques at their feet. 

Fundamentally, the movie's decent success so far can be attributed to its amazing and well-esteemed actors. High intensity or comedic moments can almost entirely be attributed to Kiernan Shipka's ability to deliver witty one-liners and fully embody the idea of cynical teenage angst, thus, for me, the only thing ‘killer’ about this film was its cast. 

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