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‘Totally Killer’ is a quality October release

A time-traveling comedy slasher murder mystery movie. We have all been on this rollercoaster many times before. Does “Totally Killer” do anything new? Add intrigue to the well-saturated “new take on horror” genre? Not really! But that’s fine. “Totally Killer” is well-made, entertaining and a necessary release for the Halloween season.

“Totally Killer” does not have an original bone in its body and no single aspect of the movie stood out as being particularly well done, or poorly done. And yet, I give this movie an above-average rating because it brings its viewers joy. This may be an odd outcome for a slasher but stick with me. 

A complaint I have levied many times against modern slasher movies (really, it’s slashers going back to “Scream” and including “Scream” sequels) is that they struggle to solidify their genre. Old slashers are dark and scary. If they have moments of comedy, such as in “Child’s Play” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” that is because the killer is funny, the situation isn’t. “Scream” brought levity to the world and all of the characters. Modern slashers often try to achieve “Scream”’s masterful blend of comedy and horror, but it is a difficult task. Failing to capture this genre-bend will likely result in an unfunny toothless horror, think “M3gan.” “Totally Killer” avoids this trap by not being scary. 

That is not to say that this movie is not tense or exciting. The first and last encounters with the killer had me yelling at my laptop. It just was not scary, and I don’t think it attempted to be. Since this movie is about a girl going back in time to uncover a serial killer from 30 years ago, we know what happens. The audience knows, for the most part, who is going to die and when, so there is very little attempt at tension when a murder is about to take place. This is where horror movies usually have the scary parts, the lead-up to the kill. The scenes in “Totally Killer” are more reminiscent of an action movie, where the tension is formed as you are rooting for your character to win the fight. I still consider “Totally Killer” a horror movie because, unlike in action films, the good guy rarely wins the fight and when they lose they get stabbed a bunch of times. 

Without spookiness bogging down the script of this movie, “Totally Killer” has an easier time just being funny. It certainly is not the funniest horror movie I have ever seen, but it uses its premise (a 2023 teen living in the 1980s) to the fullest extent. The protagonist Jamie’s (Kiernan Shipka) constant culture shocks never cease to be entertaining. Every character succeeds with the small bits they are given. And throughout the movie, no matter how intense a scene, this lighter comedy sensibility remains. 

Irony is a central feature of “Totally Killer.” It is well aware of its cliched premise and beats. While this was the root of much of the movie’s humor, I did often long for a misdirect. This longing does not apply to the overarching whodunnit plot which is grounded but not predictable. Where this movie could have strayed from the obvious path, while still doing the ironic thing, was in the characterizations of the high schoolers in the 1980s. Jamie goes back in time to discover every 50-something person in her life in 2023 fits their obvious 1980s high school stereotype. Nothing clever or unexpected happens here. The characters and the scenes that take place in the past (the majority of the movie) are all good. No major complaints, but I think this movie had a lot of space to twist the classic 80s high school, and it didn’t.

What it did twist was the time travel mechanics, which I’ll admit I have not seen in many other movies. It tries a little too hard to provide scientific justification for time travel, but it has a very clever take on the butterfly effect. As opposed to the future being easy to change in massive ways, all of which unfold when the protagonist returns, in “Totally Killer” the future is changed in, for the most part, very minor ways that we get to observe periodically as Jamie goes on her mission. For example, Jamie’s favorite band, whose lead singer attended the high school where the murders occurred, has a name change because of the lead singer’s change in proximity to one of the murders. This was a funny and creative take on time travel that added a lot to the movie.

To describe this “Totally Killer” as “a necessary release,” as I did above, is cynically phrased but should not be viewed as a criticism in and of itself. This movie checked an important box for Blumhouse, and the industry at large, who are contractually obligated to release a funny teen slasher every October. I, and many casual or non-horror fans, watch these funny teen slashers and tend to enjoy them. This October actually has a noticeable lack of both slashers and horror comedies, likely because of the writer’s strike. So the fact that one came out that is a good watch, possibly even deserving of a rewatch, is wonderful and necessary to provide content for people who love the spooky season but are not interested in an “Exorcist” remake or an ultra-depressing Argentine movie about demons.

If you and your friends are looking for something fun to get you in the Halloween mood, I recommend “Trick ‘r Treat,” the best Halloween time movie ever made. But, if you have completed your obligatory annual watch as my friends and I have, I recommend “Totally Killer” which is available on Amazon Prime.

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