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On August 14, 2023, Amazon revealed the first images for their upcoming Prime Video horror comedy Totally Killer. Starring Kiernan Shipka, Totally Killer is about teenager Jamie Hughes who becomes the target of the returning “Sweet Sixteen Killer.” Jamie accidentally travels back in time to 1987 and teams up with a teenage version of her future mother (Olivia Holt) to stop the killer during the masked maniac’s original murder spree. The movie sounds like silly slasher fun, but the internet was quick to point out plot similarities between Totally Killer and the 2015 horror comedy The Final Girls.
The Final Girls is about a young woman, Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), who is transported into a 1986 slasher movie and bonds with a character played by her mother while trying to find a way to escape back to reality. A simplification of the basic plots of both movies does make them sound vaguely similar, but are they similar enough to say they are basically the same movie? Lots of people on social media seem to think so. So does Todd Strauss-Schulson, the director of The Final Girls.
But how similar are Totally Killer and The Final Girls really? Is this just a case of knee-jerk overreactions based on very little information? Is this an example of a rip-off, a riff on, or just two movies with overlapping elements? Let’s take a look.
There isn’t a lot of information regarding the specifics of the plot and story for Totally Killer, so most comparisons come with a lot of speculation. However, some obvious similarities include the setting of the 1980s, a slasher-style masked killer, and a young female lead encountering a younger version of her mother in the past.
Also, Totally Killer and The Final Girls are both horror comedies. Given that Totally Killer is set in the 1980s, it is virtually guaranteed that it will contain humorous commentary about the tropes of horror movies from that era. Much of the comedy in The Final Girls is built upon parodying horror and slasher cliches, so the tone of both movies is likely to be within the same vein. Though, again, this is only an assumption. Beyond that, it’s difficult to point out any more clear similarities.
When you think about it, Totally Killer and The Final Girls aren’t all that similar. First of all, The Final Girls isn’t really about time travel. Sure, Max and her friends are in a version of 1986, but they’re not actually in 1986. There not in history, they’re in a world that takes place in a fictional representation of a tiny part of history. It’s a completely separate world. That might sound like a small technical difference to some people, but in terms of story it’s pretty big. By traveling into a movie rather than through time, whatever Max does has no effect on the real world. Time travel movies almost always deal with the ramifications of changing the past. The Final Girls doesn’t have that. The stakes in the movies are completely different (other than the main characters’ lives being in danger, obviously).
Also, the version of Max’s mother in The Final Girls isn’t actually her mother. The character, Nancy, is just a fictional character who looks like Max’s mother. The fact that Nancy isn’t Max’s mother yet looks like her leads to fantastic scenes about hope, loss, and grief throughout The Final Girls, but the interactions between Max and Nancy most likely won’t be the same to how Jamie and her future mother Pam interact in Totally Killer. On the surface they may seem similar, but there is no reason to assume they’ll be the same when it comes down to their character arcs.
If we take a look at the basic premise of The Final Girls from a high level, it’s more akin to a movie like Last Action Hero (1993) or Waxwork (1988). They’re not really about time travel, they’re about traveling to an isolated, alternate reality where the rules of the world may be different. Totally Killer is more like Back to the Future (1985) or any number of other time travel movies. They’re about trying to change the past without screwing up the future. The Flash (2023), for instance, starts off as a time travel movie about someone going back in time to save their mother from getting killed. So many time travel movies have the same basic setup, then they spin off into something unique as the movie goes along.
If you do want to consider the time aspect of The Final Girls as being central to its plot, then it’s still more like Happy Death Day (2017) or Happy Death Day 2U (2019) than it is to Totally Killer. The Final Girls is essentially a time-loop movie since Max and her friends are stuck repeating the same 92 minutes of the movie they’re in unless they can change things in the proper way. Happy Death Day 2U even contains a plot thread similar to The Final Girls involving the main character’s deceased mother being alive in the alternate reality of the time loop.
So, do Totally Killer and The Final Girls seem similar? Sure, but only if you’re not looking very closely. The tones and styles of the two movies are likely to be close to each other, but that’s just something we’ll have to wait for and judge when Totally Killer is released. As for the plot and story though, even the brief plot synopsis we’ve seen of Totally Killer is enough to know that it not similar enough to warrant accusations of it being a rip-off of The Final Girls.
The final determination of how close these two movies are to each other will only happen after Totally Killer is released. As with any movies containing similar plot and story elements, a lot of it comes down to the film’s execution. But even if they do feel quite similar, does it matter? How many slasher movies have the same basic setup? Tons of haunted house movies contain nearly identical plot structures. How many zombie movies have you seen that follow the same basic story of isolation and survival? The list goes on, and that’s fine.
If Totally Killer is a good movie, then who cares if it’s similar to something else? A good movie is a good movie regardless of whether or not it’s derivative of something else. Genre movies exist because of common structures and tropes. It is true that films can stand out by defying expectations, but not every good movie has to subvert expectations to be good. Totally Killer totally has the potential to be good. We’ll find out when it debuts on Amazon Prime Video beginning October 6, 2023.