Review: ‘Totally Killer’

Kiernan Shipka Turns Back Time To Find Her Mother's Killer In Blumhouse's Horror Comedy

If Back to the Future and Scream had a baby, horror studio Blumhouse’s latest venture Totally Killer would be the evil comedic spawn. And the film knows it. Now out on Amazon Prime, the comedy slasher is packed with pop culture references, genuinely thrilling twists and turns, and so many plot holes, that it would make your head spin. 

Kiernan Shipka plays Jamie, a 17-year-old high school student living in 2023 with her mother and father. They lived through a serial killer who targeted their friend group when they were her age. The town is still marked by the killings and every year trick or treaters dress up as the masked killer. Her mother, Pam (played as an adult by Julie Bowen and as a teen by Olivia Holt) is overprotective and doesn’t want her daughter to go to a concert on Halloween Night.

While Jamie and her dad, Blake (Lochlyn Munro as an adult, Charlie Gillespie) are out, Pam is attacked by the masked killer, this time 35 years after the original string of murders, leading to her own death. Devastated, Jamie helps her best friend Amelia, whose mother went to school with Jamie’s parents, finish up a time machine science project. When the killer shows up to their location, Jamie is sent back to 1987 where she encounters the adolescent versions of the many adults in her life, including her own mother. 

While Totally Killer’s synopsis might seem convoluted or hokey, Nahnatchka Khan’s direction and David Matalon, Sasha Perl–Raver, Jen D’Angelo’s script are smart and self-aware. They play into the generational differences between the socially lawless ‘80s and the PC culture of today without overdoing the joke. Halloween is one of the first visual references Khan makes in the film, which makes sense as her last film Always Be My Maybe played off of beloved rom-coms. She knows when to turn off the comedy though and give the audience moments of genuine suspense. 

The dialogue may be well-written with surprising twists and turns, but Totally Killer plays fast and loose with the perimeters of time travel. Time travel movies often live and die by the rules set up in the script and there aren’t really any in this film. If you give any thought to the scientific logic, the premise would fall over, luckily Keirnan Shipka is there to ground the film.

The movie wouldn’t be as successful if Shipka’s performance lacked in any way. She gives Jamie just the right amount of skeptical sass that any teenager going back to 1987 would have. From pointing out the causal racism and sexism of the era with a quick-witted joke to cleverly out-maneuvering the killer at every turn, she dominates this horror comedy. Her performance is reminiscent of Taissa Farmiga’s in The Final Girls but she puts her own spin on it, propelling the story forward at every turn. 

Ultimately, Totally Killer is a fresh, suspensefully fun watch, perfect for this time of year. While the logic of the film doesn’t always make sense, there’s enough here to overlook that. Like a masked killer lurking in the background, this Blumhouse production sneaks up on you.

'Totally Killer'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-totally-killerKiernan Shipka's hilarious turn as a final girl and the smart dialogue completely overshadows the film's many plot holes.