Totally Killer

In the incredibly cheeky and astute “Totally Killer,” “Halloween” and “Back to the Future” are combined.

This complex genre mash from director Nahnatchka Khan (“Always Be My Maybe,” “Fresh Off the Boat”) is a fish-out-of-water comedy with funny one-liners blended with time-travel sci-fi that actually kind of makes sense. The scary aspect of this horror film is, if anything, its weakest point, yet “Totally Killer” is vivacious enough to be entertaining from start to finish.

Kiernan Shipka, who has a natural knack for snappy conversation and the theatrical skills to maneuver some challenging mood swings, is largely responsible for this. He is a hugely compelling presence. The “Mad Men” star must transition from a snarky teen to a grieving daughter to an adventurous investigator, and she does so with ease thanks to the script by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo.

Jamie Hughes from Shipka is getting ready to go out with her friends on Halloween night in 2023. Pam (Julie Bowen), her overly protective mother, naturally worries about her daughter’s security: Three adolescent girls were murdered 35 years ago, around Halloween, and this small town has been known as the “Sweet Sixteen Killings” ever since. But Jamie discovers she can halt the killings and change history when she unintentionally travels back in time to 1987.

or so she believes. One of the recurring jokes in “Totally Killer” is that no one, not even the town’s hilariously ineffective sheriff (Randall Park, a frequent collaborator of Khan), believes Jamie when she warns them. This young woman from today struggles with culture shock situations like continuous smoking and casual misogyny.

But these comments are specific enough to transcend beyond the cliché “The 1980s, amirite?” In addition, “Totally Killer” includes a variety of singles that are different from the songs we generally hear in movies from this era, such as Bananarama’s “Venus,” Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play.”

Jamie must ingratiate herself with the potential victims as well as the teenage version of her mother, who, to Jamie’s surprise, served as the group’s leader and best friend. Olivia Holt is ideally suited to play young Pam because, in addition to sharing a striking resemblance with Bowen, she is skilled at playing both the nasty and comedic aspects of the role.

Big hair and Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers are all over as Jamie tries to warn these people about what will happen to them if they don’t listen to her using clichés from horror films. Additionally, they fail to.

There are a few creative decisions made in “Totally Killer”‘s storyline. Although a subplot involving a murder podcast feels simple and one-note, it really flashes back to the future, if you’ll pardon the pun, to inform us of what’s happening in the present while Jamie is stranded in 1987. It also examines the isolation of small-town life and how graduating from high school can lock people in a location and in the past.

Since they have been in each other’s orbit for all time, these characters are completely familiar with one another. The idea that the 1980s were better and simpler is cut through by Shipka’s deadpan amazement.

A killer is on the run, and Jamie needs to catch him. There isn’t time for that. The slasher sequences in “Totally Killer” aren’t staged, shot, or trimmed with a lot of skill, making them the least entertaining section of the film. A stabbing in a waterbed, for instance, is careless in every manner. The resourceful final girl who saves the day and the decade is always more intriguing than the killer’s identity and motivation.

presently available on Prime Video.

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