Sunday, March 10, 2024

Totally Killer

Movie Name:
Totally Killer
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Lochlyn Munro, Charlie Gillespie, Randall Park, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jonathan Potts, Nathaniel Appiah, Zachary Gibson, Nicholas Lloyd, Kimberly Huie
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Nahnatchka Khan has had a lengthy career writing for a series of popular comedy shows including "Malcolm in the Middle", "American Dad", and even the ones she has created, including "Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23", "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Young Rock". Her feature directorial debut was the Ali Wong penned comedy "Always Be My Maybe" and "Totally Killer" is her sophomore directorial endeavor, a slasher and comedy hybrid of sorts. The film focuses on the story of Jamie Hughes, who has doting and loving parents. She is at times at odds with her  well meaning mother, who has enforced in her the need to be self reliant and be dexterous in her self defense. Turns out their hometown had a series of killings in 1987, where three teenage girls named Tiffany, Marisa and Heather, were assassinated by someone who became known as the Sweet 16 Killer (because each of them was stabbed 16 times). Jamie's mom is attacked and killed the same way as the girls from 1987, not without offering some fight. Jamie mourns her death, in the company of her best friend Amelia who in the meantime has been creating a time machine for a school project. When Jamie is chased by the killer and hides in the time machine, he inadvertently stabs the machine, which activates it and sends Jamie all the way back to 1987. And right before the killings occur. Jamie figures she has an opportunity to change the past, and save all those girls, but nothing is as simple as she thinks, starting with her parents, particularly her mom who is not as doting, kind or friendly as she always presented herself to be. Jamie has to convince Lauren, her best friend's Amelia mother of who she is, and figure out how she can save the girls and also return to her timeline. 
This mix of "Back to the Future" (from director Robert Zemeckis), with slasher film genre, with "Heathers" (from director Michael Lehman), has indeed much going for it. It's script is also layered with the clash of what these days is considered politically correct, versus what was typically dished out in the 80s (and 90s and 2000s). All these references, clashes, winks, make the film both a satire for the present and past times, and for the most part the film hits the mark on many of these aspects (there are even visual nods to "A Nightmare on Elm Street"). Where the film does lose a bit of its momentum is in the characters themselves. The creative team seems to have really posited their focus and attention on recreating the 80s to perfection, that they forgot to give the characters a bit more than just one paragraph descriptions of who they are and what constitutes their motivations. Particularly when Jamie goes back to the 80s (where a solid score comes into play, with songs from Echo and the Bunnymen for instance), the group of mean girls she comes in touch with, including her future mother, are barely defined, aside from their snarkiness. The film manages to hold one's attention thanks to Kiernan Shipka's central character, but even her is somewhat generic, nothing indicating what makes her particularly distinctive or even insightful (and maybe that's the point). Ultimately the film does hold an entertaining value as recreation of various sources from the 80s, but it could have been so much more. The cast is solid, with Kiernan Shipka getting solid support from Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Jonathan Potts and Randall Park. The production team is a bit uninspired, but the score from Michael Andrews is worth highlighting. It's watchable but also easily forgettable.