Film Reviews

Review: Totally Killer. At least of your time and mood

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Nahnatchka Khan.
  • Producers: Jason Blum, Greg Gilreath and Adam Hendricks.
  • Screenplay by: David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo.
  • Cinematographer: Judd Overton.
  • Music by: Michael Andrews.

Synopsis: After 35 years, a mass murderer starts killing again. Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) travels to the past to figure out who the killer is before they even begin killing.It’s a fun “good bad guys” story that also acts as a satire about privilege brought to you by privileged people.

Shotgun Commentary: Hot Tub Time Machine (2012) meets generic slasher in an unoriginal, boring film that represents 106 wasted minutes of your life that you are not getting back.

A white couple talking to her daughter. The father is wearing a T-shirt with a naked torso drawn in it, and the mother is dressed as Molly Ringwald.
Fig. 1. Blake (Lochlyn Munro) and Pam (Julie Bowen), parents of Jamie (Kiernan Shipka). I was so excited to see a member of Scary Movie (2000) in this film.
Source: Totally Killer (2023).


While horror isn’t always the most coherent of genres, this film is too much, even for me. I was wondering which horror movie would be the worst this year and this might be it. It is tough to beat last year’s winner, Christmas Bloody Christmas, but hell if they didn’t do it with flying colours.

A Halloween mask of a blond man smiling with a piercing in his left ear.
Fig. 2. The Sweet Sixteen killer. How innovative, another guy in a mask killing teenagers, not at all like Michael Myers… Source: Totally Killer (2023).

Pick your poison

As a slasher, it is almost… boring? You get very few deaths with a minimal amount of blood and no excitement at all. They feel almost listless, which is a big no-no for this type of horror.

Alternatively, the film could be thought of more as a time travel film than a slasher. Sadly, if that is the case the movie is still terrible. The change of decade only adds to the already overused 80s nostalgia that has been sprinkled in most of the teenage-targeted content in streaming platforms during the last few years.

Four teenagers dressed as different versions of Molly Ringwald drinking some orange soda together.
Fig. 3. “The Mollies”, a copy of the Mean Girls (2004) gang but copying Molly Ringwald instead of having their own personalities. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

The time frame also serves to try to make comedy by pointing out in the most direct of ways all the problematic 80s behaviour that is no longer socially acceptable.

Infantilising the audience

When I say “try to make comedy”, I might have been too lenient. What I actually meant was that they try to make humour like your drunk uncle does on Christmas: by repeating a joke at least three times and then proceeding to explain it in very simple terms in case you haven’t understood it yet because you are not laughing.

It feels like the writers thought maybe the audience wouldn’t understand what is wrong with those actions unless it’s spelled out for them? Or maybe they knew no one would laugh at the joke and decided that a further explanation would somehow make it funny?

A blond teenager talking to an mum in the 80s. The mum is smoking next to her kids. The perfect example to illustrate the point this review of Totally Killer is trying to make.
Fig. 4. Jamie talking to a smoking mum in the 80s. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

It might be a cultural thing (or maybe just a me-thing), but being treated like a toddler when I’m watching something gets on my nerves big time. I mentioned this issue before with the recurring strategy of stating with big bold letters which of the three acts you are watching in a film, but I’ll ask again: how dumb do writers think the audience is? And, seeing as they make things more and more obvious as time goes by, a second question is in order: are they right?

Since it is better to not dwell on whether the writers are wrong for thinking audiences are stupid or right because they are getting a bigger success the more they explain, let’s shift the focus on the other two main events of the film: performance and the unexplainable.

Totally Killer stereotypes

It is kinda funny to see Julie Bowen play someone other than Claire Dunphy in Modern Family (2009-2020). That is, until you realise that her character Pam is, in fact, Claire Dunphy. Don’t bother trying to tell them apart, they are one and the same.

A blond mother yelling at her daughter.
Fig. 5. Pam yelling at her daughter. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

As for the protagonist Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), she is pretty much a magicless Sabrina, from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018-2020). These uncanny resemblances might be more the product of an underdeveloped script than an acting issue since apparently every suburb mum and teenage daughter are the same in every comedy or horror film.

However, it is worth mentioning that Shipka has mastered the fakest crying ever to be witnessed in cinema. It was completely unexpected (it’s probably the only surprising bit of the movie) and I am still not over the shock. I don’t think I’ll ever be.

A teenage girl sitting on the ground next to her bed, crying. The graphic proof of what this review of Totally Killer is talking about.
Fig. 6. Jamie performing the fakest crying ever. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

As for their mother-daughter relationship, both in the present and the 80s, it felt like watching an underdeveloped version of The Final Girls (2015) where the writers never bothered to give either of them any ambitions or personality further than the stereotypical characters they represent. While this is common in slashers, they are the main characters, a little more ambition in their development doesn’t hurt.

Totally Killer defence fail

Every respectable slasher has its fair share of incongruous, unexplainable behaviour here and there, but the absurdity displayed in this film is one for the books, starting with Pam. Yes, adult Pam.

She is portrayed as the most prepared person ever against a killer. She’s been waiting 35 years for the murderer to come for her and yet, when the time comes, she runs away INTO the house instead of out towards the middle of a heavily transited street where she’ll be safe? Also, she knows how to fight and has an infinite number of hiding places with weapons, but she doesn’t close the back door? And she turns her back to a door after losing sight of the killer? What kind of lame training has she had?

A scared blond woman with a knife looking for her attacker. One of the numerous moments the mum acts irrationally, as this review of Totally Killer is trying to illustrate.
Fig. 7. Pam defennding herself with a knife while keeping her back turned to the door. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

Now let’s talk about her daughter, Jamie, whose ignorance will make you completely ignore the impossibility of keeping a phone charged for four days.

The thing is, when you hear a 16ish years old girl say that she doesn’t know what DNA is, everything else feels irrelevant.

Totally Killer education system

Maybe it’s meant to be cute, or funny, or the only non-spelled-out critique of the movie. It is hopefully the third, but either way, it raises genuine concern about the American education system if the norm is for teenagers that age to not know what DNA is.

A confused teenager talking to a policeman who is holding a bag full of paper soaked in blood. The perfect example to illustrate the point this review of Totally Killer is trying to make.
Fig. 8. Jamie confused as to what DNA is. Pretty sure that was my exact face while watching this scene. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

A detail that makes me lean towards critique is that the most ignorant and uneducated kid in the school ends up as the school principal. Now, it could be that his life has changed drastically after meeting Jamie, but seeing as the character has absolutely no noticeable development, I am electing to understand it as another critique to the American education system, it just feels good.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • It’s great to know self-defense, but sometimes you only need a little bit of common sense to survive a serial killer.
  • If you don’t know what DNA is, do yourself a favour and look it up, or watch Jurassic Park (1993) if you’re allergic to reading.
  • Locking the doors to your home is always a good idea, if you keep them open whist fearing for your life, you deserve to be killed, it’s natural selection (a term you can also look up or learn from Jurassic Park if you want to be smarter than the average American teenager).
A woman defending herself from an attacker.
Fig. 9. Pam defending herself from the serial killer. +1 for her self defense skills, -100 for her lack common sense. Source: Totally Killer (2023).

What’s your take? Did you actually enjoyed it or should I pass my condolences on your lost time? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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