Totally Killer (2023) Directed by Nahnatchka Khan
When Marty Mcfly time-traveled to the past his immediate impression was one of astonishment, bemusement and obfuscation, when Jamie Hughes (Kiernan Shipka) – the rebellious and paradoxically self-righteous heroine of this movie – time-travels to the past her initial reaction is one of impassivity and nonchalance, as if time travel is the most commonplace event in the world. In fact, this shapeless and unexciting pseudo-slasher sci-fi comedy has the gall to reference Back to the Future multiple times without even having the decency to study its underpinnings. Nahnatchka Khan’s Totally Killer, about a teenage girl’s adventitious journey into the past to prevent a series of murders from happening in 1987 in order to alter the course of events in the future and avert her mother’s tragedy, is the kind of puerile exercise that contradictorily rehashes clichés only to recklessly employ them in the most clichéd way possible. Beyond its sloppy execution, I think my biggest frustration with this film was its implausible storytelling.
Autonomously, the suspension of disbelief does its job, but the indifferent performances and highfalutin direction make it impossible to maintain it in perpetuity. Moreover, the intersection of comedy and horror here is simply atrocious – there’s never any harmony between them – leaving in visibility an imbalance in its generic dichotomy; it ends up being more comedy than horror, and the sci-fi drivel seems more like an arbitrary last-minute contrivance than something thoroughly premeditated. When the film develops its dull, digital façade and the narrative begins to pose its playful interplay of genres by evoking visual iterations of other films, the dearth of ideas becomes irritatingly conspicuous; the only mechanism the filmmakers have to grab your attention is by dropping a pathetic drama in the middle of an awkward plot.
Worst of all, this film, and its fanciful conceptions, has already been made in 2015 with less budget and less talent, yet it had plenty of creativity to spare, and that film is called The Final Girls (2015), a hilariously impassioned experiment carried out with a palpable, profound love for slasher cinema. Totally Killer is rarely funny, it’s more risible for all the wrong reasons. However, the film excels in individual moments that when I recall them herald to me a certain potential to be “one of the worst horror films I’ve seen this year with some of the best horror scenes I’ve seen.” A tragedy indeed, since the dull performances are often brilliant in the film’s most vicious sequences, and for some reason in those moments of ephemeral productivity even the filmmaking is cohesive. Like Marty in Back to the Future, Jamie meets his teenage mother (Olivia Holt) in 1987 and many other teenagers she already knows in the future as adults; after these predictable proceedings, the spirit of the film never quite settles on what it wants to be.
Clearly, at this stage of the plot, Totally Killer’s ontology is imprecise, yet its ethics are blatantly specific. I could never determine whether it was really a satire of 1980s popular culture or a parody of slasher cinema, but what I could discern is that it is a common mockery of outdated ideals. The main character who belongs generationally to the 21st century clashes with the unbridled and politically incorrect stereotypes of the 20th century, Jamie is a post-modern anachronism in the 80’s. For this film’s biases, misogyny, homophobia, and promiscuity are embedded and institutionalized in the youth culture of those times. I find the generational scrutiny given to the central parodic conceit of the film to be hackneyed, the narrative and characters indulge in sociopolitical absurdities that come across more as moralistic messages, rather than anything sharply comic or satirical. Ultimately, it fails in all its multifaceted areas, although it is a curious and showy product, the truth is that I was never captivated by its hokey rhetoric, much less by its satirical charm.