What do you get if you cross Back To The Future with Scream (and maybe throw in a bit of Hot Tub Time Machine for seasoning)? You get Totally Killer, an Amazon original film that is now streaming.
I know what you’re thinking…sounds Blumhouse-y, right? You are correct. Totally Killer is brought to you by Jason Blum via his television regime.
Totally Killer plot: a teenage girl has her mom murdered by the Sweet 16 Killer, who returns after a 35-year hiatus from stabbing. Said teenage girl then travels back in time to 1987 and teams up with the high-school version of her mom to stop the killer.
I wonder if Jason Blum played with his G.I. Joe figures and Star Wars figures at the same time a lot as a child…
Totally Killer is a veritable Who’s-Who of actors, as in, who are these people? You got Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Charlie Gillespie, Troy L. Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasgnar, Nathaniel Appiah, Nicholas Lloyd and more!
Meanwhile, the film is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, who directed some episodes of Young Rock. David Malaton, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo wrote the story. One of them interviewed Robert Redford once, so that’s pretty cool.
I did recognize a couple of the adults, at least. Julie Bowen plays the old version of the mom. Lochlyn Munro plays her husband, and Randall Park is the policeman in 1987. I particularly enjoyed his dismissal of DNA evidence.
As a whole, the group of them manages to throw something onscreen that maybe most closely resembles a Disney TV series from the 2000s. Just mix in cursing and CGI stabbing, and you have Totally Killer. In that case, maybe it was made exclusively from Hannah Montana outtakes…
Totally Killer Tally
Does the mish-mash work? Sort of…with a number of caveats.
Some mild amusement exists in seeing a teenager from 2023 go back to 1987. Jokes are made about people’s lack of social awareness in 1987. Then more jokes are made about people’s lack of social awareness in 1987, followed up by still more jokes about people’s lack of social awareness in 1987.
In other words, it becomes a bit one-note after a while. Totally Killer also makes an attempt at bawdy humor, ala Hot Tub Time Machine, but these jokes fall flat. The problem is none of the players have the comedic chops of the likes of Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and John Cusack. I’m not even sure they have the comedic chops of my friends from junior high. Man, we had some laughs…
Totally Killer Killer
When it comes to slasher flicks, the creators basically have three choices of what engine will drive their movie: the kills, the mystery, or both.
Totally Killer has no creative kills. All it has is the mystery to keep viewers glued to the screen. Overall, Totally Killer does a C+ job in this department. The issue it runs into is that the future portion of the movie tells us which characters were killed, so we know they aren’t the killer in the past.
That means the list of suspects is extremely limited. Totally Killer avoids the issue for as long as it can. Then it basically gives the game away with a single line, which, when combined with the actions of the killer during the kill scenes, makes it fairly obvious. A half-hearted twist is thrown in on top of that, but it is so dutiful included that it offers no real surprise. It is simply there because some sort of twist is expected.
Totally Time Travel
How does Totally Killer handle the time travel? Poorly. Time travel is always a bit wonky. It is either scientific jargon, flashing lights or poof! Yet, filmmakers can at least disguise these issues with interesting scientist characters or clever storytelling.
Back To The Future is a master class in this department. A flux capacitor? In a DeLorean? And it only works when one reaches 88 miles per hour? That’s crazy, man! Yet, Zemeckis and Gale wrote it beautifully. The first trick was Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown. The character is so well-realized and acted that you believe everything he says.
Next, Zemeckis and Gale lean into all of the goofiness at the film’s climax to create a rousing sequence with the lightning storm and Marty’s attempt to get the DeLorean up to speed. This begs the question: were Zemeckis and Gale that smart or were they just that instinctive as writers?
It doesn’t really matter. The magnificent loonies pulled it off.
The writers of Totally Killer don’t pull time travel off. Basically, the time machine is a photo booth at a deserted carnival for some stupid reason that I don’t care to rationalize. It is also built by a teenage girl for a science project. Okay…whatever.
Totally Killer also makes the mistake of continually mentioning the movies it is imitating. I don’t understand why filmmakers do this. It isn’t a clever wink-wink. All it does is break the immersion of the movie and remind the viewer that they could be watching classic movies that handled the subject matter more deftly.
It’s like marriage. I don’t wake up every day and remind my wife that she could have married someone successful. No, every day is a continual psy-op where I attack her self-worth and manipulate her to come to the conclusion that she never could have done better. That’s how you do it.
Total Killer Summary
Totally Killer is a smidge tricky to categorize exactly. Is it clever to mix genres? Maybe. Let’s face it, there are only about six basic plots. Every story is simply a variation run through the writer’s own interpretive matrix. Yet, Totally Killer doesn’t deserve a ton of credit beyond the initial idea of mixing. Most of the heavy-lifting was already done because a lot of the movie is direct copying, which it freely admits.
Nevertheless, it was kind of fun as a random Monday night watch. I even almost laughed a couple of times. Almost. Totally Killer also has a solid DEI score. Ah, movieland, in your quest to unite mankind you dehumanized everyone into an acronym quota. Nice job!
Totally Killer will not be remembered a month from now, and that’s okay. The world needs B-movies, too. They provide the training grounds for people who will eventually make classics. I expect big things from Nahnatchka Khan in the future. Okay, maybe not big movies exactly, but certainly she will eat a big meal with her paycheck. As for the viewer, these movies provide something undemanding to give their brain a break from the times they find themselves living in.
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