Happy Death Day runs full speed into Back To The Future in Blumhouse’s slasher – here’s our Totally Killer review.
Both the slasher and the time travel movie are well-trodden ground where cinema is concerned. It’s a challenge, then, to create new films in those genres that are unpredictable and fresh. Blumhouse’s Totally Killer doesn’t quite achieve that, but mixes the narratives of familiar films in both genres to create something that’s just pure fun.
Kiernan Shipka’s Jamie lives in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and no one has gotten over three gruesome murders of teenage girls that occurred 35 years ago, in 1987. Murder tours are given, true crime podcasts are recorded (which provides the opening narration and initial exposition), and on Halloween night the killer returns to claim a fourth victim.
Luckily, Jamie just happens to have a friend who’s successfully invented time travel, and when she comes face to face with the masked murderer she jumps into the time machine, which takes her back to the day of the first killing. With the help of her teenage mum and her friends (who are often as much a hindrance as helpful) she plans to stop the killer before he ever begins his spree.
Even during the present-day preamble, Totally Killer has everything you could hope for in a slasher. It’s set at Halloween, the town has a spooky abandoned theme park with creepy animatronics, and the killer has deep, Michael Myers-esque breathing. Like Scream, which it does directly reference, it’s also an interesting whodunnit that isn’t too predictable and presents plenty of red herrings to throw us off the scent.
Being set mostly in 1987, the film also has a dose of 80s flair. That means bright colours, perms and shell suits, but the screenplay (penned by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Hocus Pocus 2 co-writer Jen D’Angelo) also acknowledges some of the more negative cultural differences between then and now. There are no rose tinted glasses being worn here. But there are times when the screenwriters don’t seem too impressed with the politics of today’s young people, either, and Jamie is sometimes written to be ‘woke’ in a way that seems frustratingly mocking and disdainful.
Other than that, Shipka gets to have fun playing a moody teenager stuck in a fish-out-of-water scenario, and in the 80s she’s surrounded by over-the-top characters. The supporting players, namely her mother Pam and her friends, are largely stereotypes, but they’re amusing and played with a lot of enthusiasm by Olivia Holt, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz and Liana Liberato. Liberato especially is making her case for becoming a modern scream queen after also appearing in Scream VI earlier this year.
The movie’s time travel elements create a lot of its comedy, as Jamie’s experience gets an added layer of cringe by finding out what her parents were like as teenagers. It also keeps things relatively unpredictable. In classic time travel fashion Jamie’s presence changes things, and nothing happens in the way that it’s meant to. The downside is that Totally Killer often references its biggest influences, and in doing so signposts the way that the narrative is going a little bit too clearly.
Like the Scream series, it’s a great slasher whodunnit, and the sci-fi elements are fun, but diehard horror genre fans may find it lacking. There’s little in the way of true scares, and not that many jump scares, either. As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to make a slasher that doesn’t retread familiar ground, but Scream VI proved that the genre can still be updated. It pushed the boat out with its kills, some of which were much gorier than usual. Totally Killer fails to be innovative this way, but it does tick all of the usual boxes you’d expect for a sci-fi/horror mash-up, and does so while being a really fun watch.
Totally Killer is streaming on Prime Video on 6th October.
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