Review by Cole Groth
There’s nothing quite as cool as a good time travel movie. Taking an already interesting genre — whether it be a rom-com, sci-fi, or horror film — and throwing in time travel is a great way to make something distinctive and unique. Totally Killer is a time-traveling blast that combines excellent slasher elements with solid humor to make something consistently interesting.
Nahnatchka Khan’s sophomore feature follows Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), your typical angsty teenage girl, who travels back to the past after a notorious serial killer makes his return by murdering her mother (Julie Bowen). While in the past, Jamie has to work with the also-angsty teenage version of her mother (Olivia Holt), all while trying to stop the first round of killings from ever happening, eliminating the killer from history.
For the amount of fun promised by the premise, it’s nice that the screenplay — written by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo — follows through on plenty of what it promises. What starts as an average slasher takes a fun turn after an unexplained time travel photo booth is brought into the mix. After being sent to 1987, Jamie struggles to adapt to the world around her. Here, the writers insert lots of social commentary about how the times have changed. Much of it is very funny, but some of it gets a little tiresome, when the writers seem a little too self-serving in their commentary. What’s not tiresome are the kills. As a slasher, this works very well. Each sequence of murder is well-choreographed and plenty of fun, with Christopher Landon vibes oozing throughout this, and I mean that to be top praise.
There are a few minor plot points that are frustrating, such as Jamie having access to a cell phone, but not using it to prove that she’s from the future. It’s always a bit funky to see how screenwriters deal with time travel, and it’s bothersome to see the main character fail to explain that she’s there to prevent a series of gruesome murders. The teenagers are pretty frustrating, but whether that’s an issue with the screenplay or something very intentionally done is a matter of debate. The CGI holds this back from being a perfect visual experience. It’s nicely shot and well-lit for the most part, but whenever CGI is implemented for sci-fi scenes or toward the climax, it’s weak.
Kiernan Shipka is a top-tier young actress who gives her all in everything she’s in. Here, she kills it as the leading lady. Along her side is Olivia Holt, who plays the snide teenage girl role perfectly. It’s great to see the roles swapped between mother and daughter, as Jamie has to baby her mother to survive the night. Like Shipka, Holt shows that she can, too, be a scream queen. The rest of the teenage cast, along with Julie Bowen, deliver stellar horror performances. Everybody gives it their all, and it’s an all-around thrilling time.
Totally Killer proves to be a delightful and entertaining addition to the time-travel genre. Nahnatchka Khan's slasher takes the intriguing concept of time travel and blends it seamlessly with elements of humor and horror, resulting in a unique and engaging cinematic experience. Shipka is a force to be reckoned with, and deserves more roles as the leading lady after this. It’s a wild ride that’s certainly worth a watch.
Totally Killer screened at the 2023 Fantastic Fest, which ran September 21-28 in Austin, Texas.