[Fantastic Fest Review] TOTALLY KILLER

TOTALLY KILLER made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023, and boy, did it take us on a nostalgic DeLorean ride back to the gnarly ’80s! Director Nahnatchka Khan’s retro slasher combines the relentless stabbiness of Jason Voorhees with the time-travel mishaps of Marty McFly, resulting in a good time that will leave you laughing with delight.

TOTALLY KILLER flawlessly blends ’80s fashion, classic slasher tropes, and the enigmatic Mandela effect into a gripping narrative. It’s a fun, thrilling ride filled with mysteries that keep both the audience and characters guessing and searching for the elusive killer. The film wears its slasher influences proudly on its blood-soaked sleeve and breathes new life into the genre by adding a dash of time travel that feels surprisingly fitting.

The story kicks off 35 years ago when three unfortunate girls met a gruesome end when each was stabbed a whopping 16 times. The media dubbed the killer the “Sweet 16 Killer” for obvious reasons, and his Max Headroom meets Johnny Bravo mask became an iconic symbol of terror in North Vernon. Thanks to true crime podcasts, this murderous tale lives on in the town’s collective memory, but that doesn’t stop fearless Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) and her partner-in-slash, Amelia (Kelcey Mawema), from doing what teenage girls do best: ignore the warnings of overprotective parents.

Courtesy Prime Video

Early on, we witness an epic showdown between the masked intruder (it’s refreshing to see someone fight back!) and Jamie’s mom Pam, played by the talented Julie Bowen. When danger comes knocking, the town’s school administrators adopt a “thoughts and prayers” approach, putting the responsibility on the students. “Avoid the knife, save your life” becomes their absurd slogan, reminiscent of those over-the-top school shooter drills that, while darkly humorous here, point out a chilling reality. It’s a nod to how ’80s movies sometimes trivialized the safety of kids, making you wonder if they influenced real-world attitudes toward child protection (just kidding, it’s not TV that kills kids; it’s guns).

As the Sweet 16 Killer resurfaces, with the adults once again failing the kids, this paves the way for the film’s epic time-travel twist. Jamie finds herself transported back to the hair-raising year of 1987, where everything is a tad, well, terrible. Racism, misogyny, Reaganomics, and a lack of concern for health and safety are glaringly apparent in this decade. The movie cleverly showcases the stark contrast between then and now, highlighting the progress we’ve made since the ’80s while serving up a generous dose of retro fashion and music.

The casting of younger versions of the adult characters is spot-on. Instead of relying on excessive makeup or de-aging technology, the film wisely opts for talented young performers. Olivia Holt and Charlie Gillespie, portraying teen versions of Jamie’s parents, exude an uncanny likeness, especially Gillespie, making the time-travel experience all the more convincing.

Courtesy Prime Video

The film follows a classic slasher rhythm, with the killer methodically dispatching victims in increasingly brutal ways. But here’s the twist: as Jamie attempts to alter the course of events using her future knowledge, the past changes, and with it, the future. What makes TOTALLY KILLER truly stand out is the sheer fun it exudes. The film is filled with self-referential jokes and nods to its inspirations, including Back to the Future and Scream, and nothing from the 80s is safe from Gen-Z mockery. This, along with a genuinely gripping slasher plot featuring inventive deaths, sets the stage for a memorable showdown.

Overall, the film delivers a groovy blend of slasher horror and time-travel hijinks that will leave you wanting more. With its authentic ’80s vibes, clever twists, and memorable performances, this film is a scream-worthy addition to the horror genre, offering a fresh take on a classic formula. So, grab your leg warmers, put on some Duran Duran, and prepare for a tubular time with TOTALLY KILLER – it’s a killer-diller!

TOTALLY KILLER will premiere globally on October 6, exclusively on Prime Video.

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