Time Travel Slasher Comedy Plays Dumb and Wins

Totally Killer raised some eyebrows when its trailer and synopsis were revealed. It was a little too close to the plot of The Final Girls, but to the credit of director Nahnatchka Khan, this movie has a pretty different feel.

If there’s a more apparent comparison point, it’s another Blumhouse horror in Happy Death Day. Totally Killer plays out much closer to that movie, especially in its fast and loose science fiction side, but Totally Killer tends to shoot for a sillier, cruder comedy style reminiscent of Khan’s last film, Always Be My Maybe.

Three teens are brutally murdered by the ”Sweet Sixteen Killer” in the 1980s. Now 35 years later, the infamous killer returns on Halloween night to claim a fourth victim. When 17-year-old Jamie (Kiernan Shipka – Sabrina) encounters the masked maniac, she accidentally time-travels back to 1987. Forced to navigate the unfamiliar culture, Jamie teams up with her teenage mother, father, and friends to take down the psycho once and for all.

After a preamble about what happened all those years ago, and the establishing scene of Jamie’s mother being incredibly stressed and worried about her daughter going out on the anniversary of the killings, Totally Killer kicks into gear and unleashes an early deadly encounter as the reemerged Sweet Sixteen Killer tries to claim their fourth victim.

A short time skip after the events of that encounter sees the time travel happen (in a very Hot Tub Time Machine manner, I might add), and Jamie is abruptly thrust into that 1987 version of her hometown.

The early portion of Jamie’s fish-out-of-water shenanigans in 1987 did not fill me with confidence. The references to how different things were then and are now are so pointed they could poke your eye out. Jokes don’t really feel like jokes at this point, just bland observations and buzzwords. I’ve been here before and seen how much of a shitshow that can become, so I dreaded Totally Killer’s seeming descent into clunky, dull streaming fodder.

Thankfully, things settle down once the youthful versions of the adult characters get their introductions, and the drop never happens. There’s some very stereotypical ’80s cliches, but Khan has fun with them by holding up that modern mirror to them (which thankfully becomes less obvious as the movie goes on).

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the 80s teens. From a clique that dresses as Molly Ringwald characters to ridiculously stupid lunkhead jocks, and a variety pack of nerds and outcasts, Totally Killer keeps things fun and filthy with its youthful cast.

Olivia Holt’s turn as the future mother of Jamie is a pleasant surprise in that she’s not painted as some doe-eyed victim of a tragedy, but as a genuinely unlikable person who may have made a rod for her own back. But the story and writing give the character room to grow and learn without forgetting she’s still a largely vapid horny teenager.

One of the best things the film does is not to drag out the idea of people not believing Jamie’s time travel story by allowing her to say the right kind of things to the right people (she works around telling someone about time travel by telling them she’s just psychic). It means we don’t have expositionary bloat on the runtime, and we get more of the teens saying and doing all manner of stupid things.

There’s an air of Scooby Doo to the gang’s attempts to find the killer and ruin their plans. Even with vital information at hand, blunders abound as drink, drugs, and sex distract the young ones from common sense. There are some amusing moments about messing with the past to affect the future, and a neat twist on the Back to the Future plot point of getting your parents together.

The revelations about the killer are unsurprising if you’re paying even the slightest bit of attention. An admirable attempt to swerve the audience is appreciated but ineffective. I also wasn’t a fan of the Sweet Sixteen Killer’s costume. Apart from looking like a botched Pip-Boy costume, it feels very much like a low-grade knockoff of so many other slasher masks. They aren’t a particularly inventive killer either, and the bright CG blood on the knives and wounds doesn’t help portray this as a formidable foe.

But as you might have guessed, the joy in Totally Killer comes from the teens and their oversexed interactions (the oft-repeated gag about blow jobs is genuinely funny). The murders add a bit of spice to it, but they do feel secondary. That might well be for the best, as Khan and her writers appear to handle the comedic side with far more ease.

Totally Killer is a good time as far as comedy time travel slashers go (a growing sub-genre, it seems). A rocky start and strangely subdued slasher moments make it initially hard to like. Yet the young cast shines as walking cliches of 80s high school kids. Totally Killer is proud of its inspirations and isn’t one to pretend they don’t exist. It may not be reaching the heights of its peers, but it is still a sincere and silly slasher comedy that makes for comfortable viewing.

Score: 7/10 – Good

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to ”Good”. A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

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