Totally Killer never tries to hide what it is: a classic slasher movie fused with Back to the Future. And it turns out that adding time travel to the well-worn horror genre helps bring some new life to it in a way that actually feels pretty fitting. If you’re looking for a nostalgia-laced slasher to stream ahead of Halloween, this is it.
Initially, the movie is set in the present day, in a small town living in the aftermath of a trio of grisly murders that happened 35 years prior. That’s part of the reason why Jamie’s (Kiernan Shipka) mother (Julie Bowen) is so darn protective. She lived through the original ordeal in 1987, and since the “Sweet Sixteen Killer” was never caught, she lives in constant fear that it’ll happen again. And she’s right — a fourth victim appears in 2023, seemingly with the same masked killer behind it.
Thanks to a series of mishaps — mostly involving Jamie’s genius best friend Lauren (Kelcey Mawema) and her homemade time machine — and a grisly murder that hits her particularly hard, Jamie ends up sent back to 1987, right before the killings take place. Of course, knowing that they’re going to happen isn’t the same as being able to stop them. Things are tough. First, she can’t go to the police and get them to help with a crime that hasn’t even happened yet because they obviously don’t believe her. (In fact, one officer, played by Randall Park, explicitly says just how dumb he thinks time travel logic is.)
Jamie also struggles with fitting in with the ’80s kids, including her and Lauren’s mothers. They’re very different as teens: sweet and caring parents in the modern day but full-on bullies in high school. There’s a bit of a Yellowjackets vibe as you shift back and forth between seeing characters as adults and teenagers (though there is far less cannibalism here).
Things follow a typical slasher rhythm, with the killer steadily picking off folks in increasingly violent ways. The twist is that, as Jaime tries to prevent the killings using her knowledge from the future, events change. And when the past changes, the future changes along with it (just like in Back to the Future). Jamie has to navigate this constantly shifting space, trying to not only stop the killings but also stay alive so she can get back home.
It may be about a serial killer, but the best part of Totally Killer is how much fun it has. The cast all seem to be having a blast, and the movie makes so many self-referential jokes while poking fun at its inspirations, including not only Back the Future but also classics like Scream. And this is all on top of a surprisingly good slasher story, complete with some inventive deaths, like a final showdown set on a spinning fair ground ride.
Totally Killer isn’t the kind of movie that will sell you on the genre — it’s simply a good time for those who already love it. Like other recent homages, from Fear Street to Pearl, Totally Killer really understands the space it’s working in and has a lot of fun twisting — and slashing — that framework to its own devious ends.
Totally Killer starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 6th.