Woke ‘Totally Killer’ Misses Its Huge Potential

Horror-comedy hybrid drowns in social messaging, scare-free kills

The “Final Girl” remains a horror movie staple.

She’s the last woman standing in a slasher film, the plucky gal who survives the rampage of Michael, Freddy or Jason.

Call the heroine of “Totally Killer” the “Insufferable Girl.”

Yes, we’re meant to root for her survival, but along the way this social justice warrior lectures anyone in her path.

That’s problematic! That’s offensive! That’s sexist!

That’s exhausting.

It’s just one reason “Totally Killer” can’t find that sweet horror-comedy groove. It’s neither scary nor funny, and the few glib bullseyes can’t make up for the dozens of missed opportunities.

Jamie's Killer Time Machine Adventure Begins | Totally Killer | Prime Video

Kiernan Shipka is Jamie, a typical 21st century teen who resents anything her momma does or says. Said mom, played by “Modern Family” alum Julie Bowen, harbors a dark secret that dates back to the 1980s.

Three of mom’s high school classmates were murdered by the “Sweet Sixteen” killer, a fiend who comes back nearly 40 years later to stalk Bowen’s character.

Good thing Jamie’s best friend is a super-scientist who created a time machine in her spare time. Jamie uses the device to go back to 1987 and try to stop the serial killer before he can wipe out Mom’s friends.

And Mom.

The setup offers a ripe culture clash scenario, from obvious fashion faux pas to other changes over the years. Screenwriters David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo instead lean into Jamie’s woke bona fides, letting her lecture everyone around her how “wrong” they are about … everything.

A simple eye roll might suffice, but Jamie is too righteous for that.

None of this would crush the film if not for its unrelenting mediocrity. The kills are boring, the villain as generic as his vanilla mask and good luck getting past a smile or two on the comedy front.

Jamie’s mom is a Mean Girl on steroids, another intriguing subplot that doesn’t go anywhere. And having Jamie call her younger mother “Mom” but turned into “Mamacita” not once but twice … is a running gag that pulled a calf muscle the first time ‘round.

A few cultural clashes land, like how too many parents smoked in their cars during the 1980s. It’s also amusing to recall the lax security measures schools employed in the analog age.


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Otherwise, the film’s ’80s setting is mere window dressing, a chance to break out shoulder pads and poofed-up hair.

The film’s third act does offer a surprise or two, but it’s hurt by ripping off another horror movie franchise.

And we’re past the time when mentioning “a cabin in the woods” is anything but stale in a horror comedy. They made a movie with that title, gang. It’s well past time to retire that reference.

Shipka manages to stay somewhat likable despite her character’s unfailing knack to “fix” everyone’s “mistakes.” A better screenplay might have had some fun with that, taking her down a peg or two while also acknowledging the cultural progress made since the 1980s.

Not a chance. She’s seen as virtuous, not arrogant. More wasted potential.

“Totally Killer” teems with woke storytelling tropes. The film’s brainy types are all women, for starters. They strike the best blows against the killer, of course, and can stand toe-to-toe with them when needed.

We even get an epilogue that squeezes in one last virtue signal. Better late than never!

The film’s time-travel narrative tries its best to be as believable as possible, even name-checking “Back to the Future” a time or two. We don’t expect scientific fidelity out of these movies, just a sweet hybrid of laughs and scares.

The Prime Video original comes up small on both fronts.

HiT or Miss: Few films pack the horror-comedy potential that “Totally Killer” possesses. That’s why it’s a shame it can’t live up to it. At all.


  1. Sounds like what one reviewer said of Keirnan Shipka’s Sabrina character. She’s always right, somehow, but is a mean person nonetheless. I was thinking of watching this, but your review means I will give it a pass.

  2. Accurate review.

    Gen X here. Born in ’71. High school years right smack in the middle of the 80’s. So…I remember.

    No problem laughing at the way we used to be. It was a blast back then. That’s a note for another day, however. There were some genuine laughs in Totally Killer, but the biggest flaw for me was the dour performance by Shipka & her incessant preaching throughout the film. TK would have been so much better had she lightened up a bit, stopped being offended by everything & had some fun. We sure as hell did.

    1. As soon as she looked the mascot painted on the wall and said “racist”, I turned it off and never came back,
      Don’t these Hollywood people realize that normal people just don’t care about these things?

    1. I disagree. In fact, the acting in modern horror movies is far superior to the films I grew up on in the 80s. They’re just given so little to work with!

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