Featured as the closing film of Fantastic Fest 2023, ‘Totally Killer’ director Nahnatchka Khan decently combines two fun genres into one delightful Halloween-appropriate movie. Feeling at times like ‘Back to the Future’ and at others, ‘Scream,’ ‘Totally Killer’ is exciting enough for adults and mild enough for older teens. Perhaps missing is a better soundtrack and a few more fright factors, but overall, Nahnatchka offers a frightfully pleasing fall diversion, and her cast is solid.
Kiernan Shipka takes the lead as Jamie, a typical 16-year-old filled with angst who butts heads with her overprotective mom, Pam (Julie Bowen). Pam had a brush with a serial killer in 1987 when three of her friends died from 16 knife stabs at the hands of the “Sweet Sixteen Killer.” Because the killer was never caught, he returns, and Pam suffers the same fate as her classmates on Halloween in 2023, devastating Jamie. Jamie’s best friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) has turned a photo booth into a time machine. The killer then targets Jamie, and to avoid the same fate, Jaime enters the booth where a knife strike causes the device to send her back to 1987. Once there, Jaime works to stop the original murders and seeks out the teen version of Amelia’s mom (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) to help her, especially when she needs to return to 2023.
This strong ensemble cast and Shipka do an excellent job driving the film. Clever writing by screenwriters David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo makes for some hilarious moments and keeps the audience guessing. Shipka has some of the film’s best lines when her character experiences the lack of, for want of a better term, “wokeness.” It’s witty and smart but could use more comparisons, jabs, and 80s music. Set designers, costume makers, and makeup artists capture each time period well, especially in minor details of 1987, making for an amusing flashback ride.
We need more fun and fresh Halloween films. Khan and the screenwriters manage to keep the audience guessing, and when they reveal the killer’s identity, hints are so subtle that it comes as a complete surprise. We don’t have to do much to buy into the crazy time travel concept; in a weird way, it works. It is rightly rated R because of the requisite bloody violence, language, sexual material, and teen drug/alcohol use. I am placing 4 stars up top for this one. Featured on Amazon Prime and Paramount +, ‘Totally Killer’ is likely to become a Halloween favorite.