Kiernan Shipka’s Horror Comedy Is Like A Back To The Future Slasher Movie [Fantastic Fest 2023]

Beyond the surface-level comparisons to Marty McFly heroes and Ghostface villains you’ll find the DNA of temporal horror comedies like “The Final Girls” or “Detention.” Jamie’s girl-gang relationship with her same-aged mother Pam (Olivia Holt) drives the sentimental wholesomeness beneath corpse piles, which isn’t as achingly powerful as either prior example. Maybe that’s because Kahn’s direction feels made for primetime television laughs, rather corny and eye-rolly as ’80s stereotypes blurt throwback dialogue for cheap pops. It’s Wes Craven by way of “Saved by the Bell” meets “Hot Tub Time Machine,” where humor sometimes drops to the lowest hanging fruits of saying ’80s things like “cocaine” out loud because nostalgia references are funny, right?

Khan’s guilty of a horror-comedy sin that many commit — the imbalance of overdoing comedy and undercutting horror. Don’t get me wrong, “Totally Killer” earns genuine laughs by playing Jamie’s “woke” 2023 brain against ’80s carelessness and problematic rhetoric, and never in a scolding way, as contemporary social awareness clashes against toxic ’80s machismo or crass innuendo graphic tees. The problem is how lopsided the balance between outright slasher thrills and a time-warped “Mean Girls” remix becomes, frequently leaving scarier intentions in the dust. That might not be a bother if you’re into the Sleepover Core brand of horror storytelling that pads death scenes around the fluffiest, raunchy yet immature coming-of-age absurdity tuned into lower genre frequencies than Netflix’s “Wednesday” or “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”

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