Rated R for slasher horror stuff. There's a lot of language and sex jokes, but the movie, compared to most films in the same genre, might actually be considered tame by most horror fans. Yes, there's gore. Yes, there's sexuality. But very little happens on screen. The movie isn't trying to gross you out, but almost mimic the mystery of the original Scream. Still, R.
DIRECTOR: Nahnatchka Khan
Oh man, I really don't want to write right now. Everything you see now? Sheer willpower. I'm also fighting a clock, so I had better cool it on all the fluff I tend to pad the beginnings with. The short version? It's fun but disposable. It's almost exactly what you think. Totally Killer is almost the product of a lot of movies that are horror comedies and streaming originals. That's kind of unfair to Totally Killer, which might have something original about it. But even the stuff that kind of got me thinking, that stuff is only kind of okay.
Totally Killer falls in a sweet spot for me. I'm a huge time travel nerd and it's a spooky season that I've finally embraced enough to enjoy it. Very rarely can you catch me in that sweet spot. I think that Totally Killer works better as an absurd time travel movie, similar to Hot Tub Time Machine, sooner than a slasher film. It's a really underdeveloped slasher movie. Also, the slasher comedy, I want to say, might not work that well. I know we had Freaky, a movie that I kind of dug at the time. But the slasher really allows for natural comedy. One of my favorite things about Scream (outside just being a total package movie) is the fact that the movie doesn't forget to have fun. The characters are witty and charming. There's really no need for absurdity because the world of the slasher allows for big personalities to take jokes. I even saw the same thing in Friday the 13th with my last blog. When the killer isn't directly stalking the characters, it doesn't necessarily feel boring because these movies always end up being a bit of a party.
But I get the desire to send up the '80s slasher movie. It's a thing. All the stuff I'm talking about is super nitpicky, but it should be addressed. I feel like Totally Killer might be a bigger send up of Back to the Future than it is about the '80s slasher. While Back to the Future was a sci-fi comedy making fun of the '50s, it was meant for a broad audience. That movie covers such a wide demographic that studios have tried to replicate that zeitgeist ever since. But I think that Totally Killer was afraid to rip off Back to the Future so directly. They drop the title Back to the Future regularly. After all, that movie established rules for every time travel movie afterwards. When there's a comedic element to a time travel movie, the first thing that characters tend to do is either reaffirm or deny the time travel rules established by Zemekis and Bob Gale. Ultimately, the heart of Totally Killer isn't necessarily about surviving this generic Sweet 16 Killer. The heart of the movie is understanding one's parents and coming to Jesus with one's own crappy behavior.
That's where the movie is actually pretty great. It might be low-hanging fruit, but there's something beautiful about a simple thing done well. Jamie is garbage to her mom when she's alive. I'm not quite sure what made Pam exactly become Sarah Connor shy of seeing her friends killed years ago. I'm not sure the whole reveal of the letter is actually something that works with the story. But seeing how Jamie interacts with adult Pam and then seeing how teenage Pam acts is fun. Teenage Pam acts as the totem for the era. She is everything that should be criticized about the '80s. Admittedly, this is a version of the '80s that we see in film, not the reality of the midwest '80s with sad basements and cigarette smoke everywhere. But that's okay, because Totally Killer is both adulating for this era and not afraid to knock it down a peg or two. This might be the first great movie to celebrate Zoomers. A lot of Gen X culture is attacked here, most notably with the toxic political incorrectness that this era embraced / embraces. I don't know if the potshots are directly aimed at Gen X. I more get the vibe that society should progress.
That's maybe my favorite thing about Jamie. Jamie has a hard time maneuvering around the '80s not because she's so weak or enfeebled by the cultural context she shares. She's frustrated because things should have been a lot better. It's Marty noticing the casual racism of 1955 Hill Valley. Maybe Back to the Future doesn't go for the jugular as hard as Totally Killer does. It does point out the toxic masculinity of high school culture, especially surrounding the implied rape of Lorainne Baines. But Totally Killer is really aimed at saying, "Thank God we've come a long way." (You know, even if we are constantly backsliding.) That's where the movie makes itself known. There are things that are taken for granted by this generation and it's kind of nice that all of the faults of the era were packaged up in a single movie without being mean about it.
But in terms of making a whodunnit, I don't know if we really earned it. Totally Killer gives a shoutout to Scream, which it should and it does well. It tries pulling a Scream in the hardest way possible: by creating a background story that is fundamental to solving the killer. I love the Maureen Prescott story in the back of Scream. It's the reason that the killer reveal works so well. Totally Killer tries the same thing. Every so often, the movie will refer to Fat Trish, often for the sake of commenting on the insensitivity of both high schools and the decade in general. And, sure enough, the killer has something to do with Fat Trish. The killer, Doug, has a tie to Trish that causes him to go on a murder spree. And, yeah, there's enough hints that lead to the notion that the killer could be Doug. I picked up on the martial arts thing. I noticed that Doug is in the movie just enough to be a character, but without having the burden of raising suspision. (I call this my "Castle technique". When I was watching Castle --shut up! --when I was watching Castle, the heroes would always interview a minor character that would lead them to a litany of suspects. But the minor character was always the killer. The same deal is true here.)
It's just that...the Fat Trish story is really underbaked. They kept telling us that the Fat Trish story wasn't really all that important, that it just acted as a reminder that mean girls shouldn't really exist. It's really hard to solve a murder mystery when we just don't have the info. How were we supposed to know that Doug and Fat Trish knew each other? With Maureen Prescott, Woodsboro was rocked by the events that happened to her. Everyone knew the story and were traumatized by it, letting us into the daily life of a resident of Woodsboro. Because Sidney was Maureen's daughter, we were at the epicenter of the story. Fat Trish is almost an afterthought happening elsewhere. The movie was so desperate to give us just enough information that it gave us too little. I was mostly right with the Chris reveal, which felt a little on the nose. But I have to give Totally Killer some points when it comes to Chris.
See, I thought that the movie would have two killers, with Chris being the lead killer in this story. It explains the return of the killer later. But I also didn't use my time travel brain. The movie does a fantastic job of making the Chris Dubasage from the original timeline a variant pretty darned well. That epilogue, as dumb as it is, might be one of my favorite things ever. (I hate that I used the word "dumb." It's anticlimactic, but I was probably more okay with the movie ending than most people were.) I like the fact that the revised timeline has an adult Chris who is healthy and happy (and being monitored!). It got me there. I simply assumed that Chris had to be the bad guy in both timelines and I like that there's almost an element that makes Chris a sequel killer like in Scream 2.
I'd like to close by saying the epilogue is silly and fun. Back to the Future teased us by just making Marty's life significantly better. He could probably adjust to both sets of memories pretty easily and that was always nice for him. I like how messy Jamie / Colette's life gets. (Her name changes because she has an older brother with her name. How great!) I'm asking the same questions that I asked with Back to the Future: does Pam remember that Colette acts and looks like Jamie from the past? See, you could always write off that Clint Eastwood was just there for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and they never saw him again. Jamie saved Pam's life multiple times and time traveled in front of her. That has to be memorable. Also, why doesn't Lauren and Amelia let her in on the whole time travel bit. (OOOH! They explain away why Jamie still exists AND is able to have her cake and eat it too. Golf clap, movie! Golf clap!)
It's fun. It really is. But is it great? Probably not. It belongs in the camp with Happy Death Day and Freaky, but it probably doesn't really stick to the ribs like it should. It's a bummer because nothing is inheretly wrong with it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.