In the past nine months, horror has been on a relatively good streak and it doesn’t seem to be stopping soon. I wouldn’t quite say it’s a renaissance, as some of the releases this year have been barely watchable (looking at you M3GAN), but I definitely think there’s potential. Franchise films like Scream VI and Evil Dead Rise as well as original creations like Talk To Me and Eli Roth’s upcoming Thanksgiving slasher really put my faith in what horror can do and how to keep things interesting in a world of remakes, prequels and sequels.
A film that I think dwindled that faith a little bit is Nahnatchka Khan’s Totally Killer, released to Amazon Prime Video on October 6th. The film follows Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) as she is thrown back in time to 1987 on the Halloween her mother’s friends were murdered by the Sweet Sixteen Killer. To say the least, Totally Killer is an incredibly derivative slasher that genuinely could have been AI-generated despite a handful of good performances and comedy.
Totally Killer feels like a hodgepodge of tropes in an attempt to make Blumhouse some extra money following some less-than-perfect releases. On a more positive note, I really enjoy watching Shipka act. She carries the film and is always a delight as a lead. She definitely has the makings of a final girl if given more complex material. Shipka brings an abrasiveness to the bubblegum-pop aesthetic of the ‘80s and bounces off her costars wonderfully. Another actress with some time to shine is Olivia Holt, who gave one of my favorite TV performances of 2021 with Freeform’s Cruel Summer, which I highly recommend. Holt really deserves a lead performance to allow her to take the spotlight for a change.
Another point I found served the film positively was how much it leaned into science fiction. Most horror films go straight slasher nowadays so this was a nice mix of genres to allow for a larger audience. While the film was rated R, it didn’t relish in the gore to the point where it alienated audience members who get on the queasier side. Being on the tamer side made for a more accessible R-rated slasher without being completely sanitized. It really goes to show that there’s a way to make horror accessible for as many people as possible.
Despite the genre leaning into sci-fi, it comes off incredibly similar to Happy Death Day 2U, another film by Blumhouse. They don’t try to do anything differently than they did in that film, although that film focused on time loops rather than standard time travel. Totally Killer also reminds me of a 2015 film called The Final Girls, in which a girl and her friends (Taissa Farmiga, Nina Dobrev, Thomas Middleditch) accidentally get sucked into a Friday the 13th-esque slasher starring Farmiga’s character’s mother. Without spoiling the film, The Final Girls is incredibly similar to Totally Killer in style, aesthetic and execution.
Despite this, The Final Girls has much better comedy and flair than Totally Killer, which rides off the coattails of various ‘80s references and fish-out-of-water jokes. Most of the humor comes from how out of touch the ‘80s characters are and how progressive Shipka is by comparison, and it gets old pretty quickly. A standout that got a good laugh out of me is when a character insists they are better at driving while drunk. Thankfully, I can’t recall any hilariously corny phrases the ‘80s characters say, and to the film’s credit they stay pretty historically accurate. It really goes to show how much better a period piece is when you actually do research about the period instead of making educated guesses.
Overall, Totally Killer is wildly mediocre. It has a basic plot, watchable performances, and some creative moments. If you’re not too busy on Halloween and can’t find anything else to watch, you’ll definitely get something out of this.
Nadia Arain is a junior screen cultures major who will call out a mediocre horror movie when they see one. You can reach Nadia at [email protected].