Totally Killer, a new Blumhouse film that hits Prime Video today, blends three of my favorite genres: time travel, horror, and whodunit. It’s about a teenager who travels back in time to stop a masked killer, teaming up with her teenage mom in the process, and it’s every bit as enjoyable as that sounds.
Spoilers of the Week | June 3rd
Kiernan Shipka plays Jamie, a modern teenager who brushes off her lame mom Pam (Julie Bowen) while also borrowing her vintage clothing. Pam had a traumatic childhood because, almost 40 years earlier, three of her best friends were killed by someone who came to be known as the Sweet 16 Killer. Well, he returns—and through a slightly forced (but we’ll allow it) set of circumstances, Jamie finds herself back in 1987 with a chance to stop the killer when he first emerged. To do so, Jamie has to find the teen version of her mom, played by Olivia Holt. But Pam of 1987 is not like Pam of 2023, and Jamie is quickly forced to pivot from the rules of time travel she’s used to.
At this point, you’re probably thinking what we were whie watching: “Oh, so it’s Back to the Future meets Scream,” which, yes, it is. But Totally Killer is fully aware of that too and completely buys into it. Once Jamie gets to the past, among the first things she does is use Back to the Future to explain to the other characters what is going on, and instantly the film gets taken up a notch. This is a movie that’s not beholden to the rules of any other time-travel movie. It doesn’t care that, in other movies, characters choose not to acknowledge time travel because it might destroy the universe. Here, the movie is so open with it, it’s constantly surprising us with new twists and turns that are familiar, but different enough, to keep us interested. We won’t spoil anything specific but there’s some really smart stuff that happens.
The Sweet 16 Killer. Or is it killers?Image: Prime Video
The film also directly references Scream, though it’s not a movie characters in 1987 have seen yet. Still, as Jamie, Pam, and the others slowly realize they’re being killed, the time-travel tropes get interlaced with the whodunit aspect. We begin to notice how people are reacting to things, who’s absent in certain scenes, and so on. That idea of a masked killer mystery and all its subsequent horror aspects is much more dialed back and predictable than the time travel stuff is but, nevertheless, adds a very welcome layer of interest to a movie that already was kicking on all cylinders.
Shipka has a commanding, confident presence in the film, which is crucial because she has to be both kind of cool in 2023 while also being kind of not in 1987. That timeless charisma lets Jamie embrace any embarrassment and endear herself both to the audience and the characters. Beyond her, no one in the supporting cast really stands out, unfortunately, but the actors in 1987 do seem to be having a lot of fun playing up the typical jock/cheerleader/nerd stereotypes.
Eventually, once you accept that the killer story is really just an excuse for the time-travel element to challenge our expectations of it, Totally Killer is exactly that. By the time it gets to the third act, it’s much more emotional and dramatic than one would expect, and way more surprising than you’d imagine. All in all, it’ll probably work better for fans of these specific genres, and it never quite elevates or distinguishes itself like the films that inspired it, but as a standalone streaming film, it’s eons better than the norm. A very smart, enjoyable, entry-level horror film with some of the most fun time travel in recent memory.
Directed by Nahnatchka Khan, from a screenplay by David Matalon and Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo, Totally Killer is now streaming on Prime Video.
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