When Ron Possible said “Time travel, it’s a cornucopia of disturbing concepts” back in 2003’s Kim Possible: A Stitch in Time, he was on to something. Depending on the film or television show and the rules of time travel setup, it can get complicated quickly. However, if done correctly, the hijinx and misadventures of someone out of time can be engaging. Prime Video takes explores the concept of time travel in its new film Totally Killer, using it to answer an interesting philosophical question. If you could go back in time and stop a killer, would you?
I think that most people would give a quick yes, but the idea of going back and changing a significant moment in history could alter the timeline significantly. Would you still make that decision if it endangers others at the expense of your mission? These dilemmas are boiled down to their basic building blocks in a screenplay by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo. Totally Killer is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, executive producer of Don’t Trust the B – in Apartment 23, Fresh Off the Boat, and Young Rock.
Should Prime Video’s Totally Killer be on your watch list this Halloween season? Continue on to find out.
[Warning: Spoilers from Totally Killer are below!]
Four murders and 35 years sets the stage for Totally Killer
“Do you want to hear a story, it’s a disturbing one” is definitely an attention-grabbing way for a film to begin, setting the tone for what to expect in Totally Killer. As the narrative begins to roll out, viewers learn of the murder of three teenage girls decades before in 1987 at the hands of the Sweet Sixteen Killer. The murders had a lasting impact on the town and those who were alive at the time, however for the younger generation their deaths have no lasting impact.
This difference of opinion and experiences is at the core of Jamie’s (Kiernan Shipka) and Pam’s (Julie Bowen) relationship. Pam is overly protective, wanting to keep her daughter safe from the fate that killed her friends. However, Jamie despises her mother’s ways, wishing for some space to grow out from under her mother’s oppressive shadow. This conflict blossoms quickly, as Jamie wants to go to a concert on Halloween. Something her mother is venomously against, almost understandably so.
It becomes even more apparent that perhaps Pam has a point when she’s attacked, while her husband, Blake (Lochlyn Munro) drives Jamie and her friend to a concert. The attacker shows up at the house sporting the same creepy mask that the Sweet Sixteen Killer sported all those years before, brandishing a knife. The two of them scuffle, however, what the killer thought should have been an easy kill turns out to be much more difficult. Pam has encased her world in every protection manageable, preparing herself for this every night. Alas, it’s not enough to save her.
Filled with grief, Jamie becomes adrift, searching for answers that aren’t there. However, in her heart and soul, she knows that she has to stop the Sweet Sixteen Killer by any means possible. So when her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) invents a time travel machine, Jamie jumps at the chance to travel back to 1987 and put an end to the killer before he even begins, changing the course of history forever.
Jamie uncovers an uncomfortable truth in 1987
Surprisingly, Amelia’s invention works better than I would have expected for a public high school science project. However, right before she travels through time, she is attacked by the killer in the present day, who sticks his knife through the control panel of the time machine. A situation that definitely complicates things, but with the help of Amelia’s mother, Lauren (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson), perhaps she can complete both tasks.
However before she can confront the killer and fix the time machine, Jamie discovers something even more uncomfortable. The reality is that her teenage mother (Olivia Holt) is the queen bee of the high school, but not in a good way. Her image of the mild-mannered, cautious adult that she has of her mother is shattered when she learns that teen Pam rules the school with an iron fist. Everyone dislikes her or is afraid of her, some falling into both camps quite easily.
This revelation is hard for Jamie to digest, but it doesn’t stop her from completing her mission. A mission that no one believes. How do you convince the people around you that a murder is going to take place, when there’s no proof? Being proactive clearly isn’t going to work, so to stop the Sweet Sixteen murders, Jamie’s going to have to do it herself.
In doing so, Jamie begins to change the course of history, an effect that people in the present day begin to notice. Can Jamie figure out who the killer is and stop these girls’ deaths? More importantly, can she do so without changing history too much? She definitely can’t do it alone, but by teaming up with Lauren, teenage Pam, her teenage father (Charles Gillespie), and the rest of the girls set to be murdered, she might just have a chance. However, adding to the pressure is the need to return before the battery drains on Jamie’s phone, otherwise, she’s trapped in 1987. Totally Killer takes these treads and builds towards an ending that wraps them all up in a pretty package, perfect for Halloween.
The positives and negatives of Totally Killer
Totally Killer does a good job of blending horror and comedy, in the same vein as 2020’s Freaky. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise though, as both are made by Blumhouse. There are definitely parts that lean heavily into the horror, with graphic scenes of stabbing at the hands of the murderer. There are also a few jump scares and scenes that utilize loud music to elicit feelings of terror. Some of the techniques might appear cheap because they create feelings of horror without truly being scary, but because of the comedy aspect, the tried and true horror tactics blend in well.
This film is also incredibly funny, with moments that feel reminiscent of Bottoms. The film doesn’t shy away from the ridiculousness of it, but instead embraces those vibes and makes it an Olympic sport. The comedy is, at times meta, poking fun at how stupid and idiotic horror films can be at their core. Because Totally Killer runs with the gags instead of trying to ignore them, it makes the film that much more enjoyable. Horror doesn’t specifically mean that it has to be intense or scary, a fact that Blumhouse recognizes. Nothing goes with being scared as a moment to laugh about how silly it all is.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some problems with the story or logic behind some of the decisions. Again, I can recognize horror films aren’t known for their strong logic, but in some instances, there should have been a bit more thought from our characters. Take the time crunch that Jamie has to stop the killer so she can return home. If we’re worried about the battery being drained, why didn’t we switch off the iPhone? That would have reserved power and given Jamie more time to figure out everything on her end.
Points like these are minor with respect to the overall story, but I think with a bit of explanation or thought, the script could have been elevated past good. Regardless of the story, I still really enjoyed the film, especially with the acting from Kiernan Shipka and Olivia Holt. Both of these leading ladies are strong in their respective roles, giving similar growth journeys to Jamie Lee Curtis’ and Lindsay Lohan’s characters in Freaky Friday. Through the time travel shenanigans, the duo gain a better understanding of each other, however, specifically Jamie who sees her mother in a new light after witnessing her teenage years. It’s hard to choose a favorite between these two, as I don’t think the film would have been as good if one of these two actresses weren’t present in it.
Final thoughts on Totally Killer
Overall, I enjoyed watching this film immensely. By no means is it going to win an Oscar, but not every movie needs that, to be enjoyed. This is the perfect popcorn flick for Halloween, with plenty of scares and just as much laughs. I think it’s worth your time, especially because the only investment to have is your time, and of course your Amazon Prime subscription. So if you’re looking for something that appeals to the horror buff and comedian in your family, you should check Totally Killer sooner rather than later.
My rating for this film
Totally Killer is currently streaming on Prime Video. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on checking this film out.