Totally Killer Movie Review: A Mildly Enjoyable Slasher Riff on Back to the Future

Despite a predictable story and a shoddy aesthetic, Totally Killer works thanks to the impassioned performances of Kiernan Shipka and Olivia Holt.
Totally Killer

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

It’s a spooky season, which means audiences are bound to get tons of “content” from cinemas and streaming services related to horror. We’ve already reviewed Pet Sematary: Bloodlines on this website (if you didn’t read it, know it wasn’t very good), but there’s a much better film to watch this week on Prime Video called Totally Killer. While the film may not be as the title suggests, it’s still a mildly enjoyable affair that doesn’t overstay its welcome and drums up some pretty good action sequences.

The film starts with a Scream-esque opening sequence, as the audience is told about the origins of a serial killer named the “Sweet 16 Killer,” who stabbed three girls 16 times on the night of their respective 16th birthday. Thirty-five years later, the “Sweet 16 Killer” has returned and brutally murders Pam Hughes (Julie Bowen) in her home while her daughter, Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), and husband (Lochlyn Munro) are away.

Grief-stricken by the sudden loss of her mother, Jamie helps her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) finish her science project, which is a time machine. She doesn’t believe it will work, but when offered the opportunity to go back in time and help save her mom’s life, Jamie wishes for it to work.

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One night, Jamie and Amelia are hunted down by the Sweet 16 Killer, who accidentally stabs his knife into the Time Machine, causing it to work and transporting Jamie to 1987 – where she meets a younger version of her mom (Olivia Holt), as she now attempts to figure out who the killer is before he starts murdering Tiffany Clark (Liana Liberato), Marisa Song (Stephi Chin-Salvo) and Heather Hernandez (Anna Diaz). Unfortunately, it’s Back to the Future meets Scream and is highly predictable.

Totally Killer Contains Predictable Thrills

The most disappointing aspect of this slasher is that it doesn’t take long to figure out who the Sweet 16 Killer is. Of course, writers David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo respect the Scream playbook by subverting audience expectations near the film’s end, but it doesn’t work. Putting two and two together is not hard when the leading players are appropriately introduced, and past versions of each character are also shown.

It’s a shame because the Scream franchise consistently attempted to ensure the audience would follow a specific red herring to surprise the audience when the actual killer is revealed. In Totally Killer, none of the red herrings work. Do I watch too many slasher flicks, or is the screenplay this tame? A bit of both, but if the killer can be seen a mile away, it’s a massive failure.

It also doesn’t help that its aesthetic feels too glossy – or televisual – for the film to adequately capture the 1980s aesthetically. There’s something so pure about 1980s pop, and its cinematography should theoretically fall in line with the vibes of that era.

As bad as Wonder Woman 1984 was, the entire thing looked incredible and felt plucked straight out of the ‘80s. In Totally Killer, the cinematography never once makes an effort to make the late 1980s feel stylized and exuberant and instead relies on unimpressive techniques to add some “flair” to the proceedings. It unfortunately doesn’t work.

Kiernan Shipka and Olivia Holt are the Stars of Totally Killer

Totally Killer - Still 1

However, the film makes up for its aesthetic and storytelling shortcomings with solid performances, particularly Shipka, who seems to have the most fun out of its cast. The film will be needlessly compared to Back to the Future, but it would be unfair to put her on the same pedestal as Marty McFly because the two have vastly different character arcs as they progress in the past.

Still, the banter involving a younger version of her mother is terrific to watch, and it’s great to see Olivia Holt in a significant film role. Those who watched Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger know she is incredibly talented. In Totally Killer, she plays a vastly different version of Julie Bowen’s present-day mother, showcasing her acting range in ways the Marvel television show did not.

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Supporting performances from Troy L. Johnson, Munro, and Mawema are also excellent, but some past characters don’t have as much screen time as others. The film also contains several competently made action scenes, some more fun than others. A climax set during a haunted house ride at an amusement park is clichéd.

That said, you can tell how much of a ball director Nahnatchka Khan is having at staging it, slightly throwing some light curveballs at the audience to make it stand out among the rest of the Haunted House ride action scenes. Another sequence set in a cabin in the woods (also clichéd) is scored to Shannon’s Let the Music Play, which adds a decent amount of rhythm and energy to the scene.

Because of this, Totally Killer is somewhat watchable. These scenes keep you engaged for most of the runtime, alongside a highly entertaining lead performance from Kiernan Shipka. If it weren’t for those elements, the film would’ve lost me long ago, as the core plot is far too predictable for its own good. Still, if you’re looking for a somewhat killer time at the movies, it won’t be totally killer, but it’ll at least be more entertaining than Pet Sematary: Bloodlines.


Totally Killer is now available to stream on Prime Video. What did you think of the movie? What is your favorite slasher movie? Let us know in the comments below, and follow us on social media!



Picture of Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent

Maxance is a freelance film and TV writer, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the University of Montreal, with a specialization in Video Game Studies.