‘Totally Killer’ Director Nahnatchka Khan Planted ‘Red Herrings’ to Mask the Murderer’s Identity

Totally Killer Director Planted Red Herrings

Courtesy of Prime

Totally Killer is stacked with actors who have horror histories — which actually helped the movie misdirect from the real murderer.

“That’s what was so amazing about working with [the cast]. They’re so professional and they come in with so much experience. But they’re also so present in the moment and they’re like, ‘Let’s craft this new thing.’ And they’re excited to try new things,” director Nahnatchka Khan exclusively told Us Weekly about the stars of the Prime Video slasher. “They’re open to collaboration. They’re so funny and emotionally available that they’re able to play the comedy, the horror and the emotion.”

Totally Killer introduces the Sweet Sixteen Killer, who murders several teens in the ’80s. The masked maniac returns three decades later to claim more victims, which leads Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) to accidentally time travel back and team up with her mom, Pam (Olivia Holt), as a teen to take down the killer.

Shipka, 23, is well known for her iteration of Sabrina Spellman on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series. Meanwhile, Liana Liberato, who plays one of the teens that was murdered, was recently (spoiler) added to the Ghostface hall of fame in the newest Scream film. Viewers may also be familiar with Lochlyn Munro, whose other horror credits include Freddy vs. Jason and Scary Movie. The actor, 57, plays Jamie’s father in Totally Killer but also portrayed Betty’s father — a.k.a. the Black Hood — on Riverdale.

Prime Video’s Totally Killer is another Blumhouse production that has Us on the edge of our seats with its perfect combination of horror and humor. According to a plot synopsis from Prime Video, Totally Killer is set three decades after the shocking murder of several teens. “The infamous Sweet Sixteen Killer returns on Halloween night […]

“This is a slasher. So as you say, Lochlyn Munro, who plays her dad, he [seems like a possible suspect]. You want to populate it with red herrings, or at least suspects,” Khan, 50, noted. “You’re like, ‘Who could it be?’ And there is something about seeing him on screen where he does seem [suspicious]. We plant little clues along the way.”

A Guide to Every Time Travel Change Kieran Shipka's Character Made in Prime Video's 'Totally Killer'
Kieran ShipkaCourtesy of Prime

Khan went on to praise Shipka for portraying Jamie in a very grounded way.

“She experienced this huge traumatic event at the beginning of the movie. Then she goes on this wild ride, but you always want to remember why she’s doing this. You’re having fun and games, but this is life or death for her in a certain way,” she explained. “And Kiernan being able to play all of those emotions in the scenes is such a testament to her.”

Totally Killer has the unexpected challenge of introducing numerous spooky locations for the gruesome murders. According to Khan, it was an exciting process of “escalating” the suspense as the characters navigated each murder site.

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“Knowing where you were going was great. But it was a challenge to pull off,” she admitted. “The [murder] sequence in the cabin is a great example where you’ve got a lot of characters in play. So from the moment they arrive until they’re at the police station, it’s all about the build. It’s like, ‘Where is everybody?’ It’s about the geography of who’s in the room, who’s available and who’s vulnerable. That was almost a puzzle where you are stacking pieces.”

During her interview with Us, Khan also broke down her vision for the final battle between Jamie and the Sweet Sixteen Killer.

“It was the idea of [shooting] something in a restrictive space. You feel like you’re in a tomb [when they are on the Quantum Drop ride at the amusement park] but it’s moving. That felt like such an ’80s ride too because there’s no harness. You’re not strapped in or buckled in,” she detailed. “It’s just gravity that’s keeping you where you’re supposed to be and not having you fly to your doom. So [we were] really figuring out each kill and each sequence on its own and then just keep building.”

Another major aspect of Totally Killer is the way it jumps between the ’80s and present day.

Totally Killer Director Planted Red Herrings
(L-R): Olivia Holt as Teen Pam, Charlie Gillespie as Teen Blake, Kiernan Shipka as Jamie Hughes, Stephi Chin-Salvo as Marisa Margolis and Jeremy Monn-Djasngar as Teen Randy FinkleCourtesy of Prime

“I really wanted it to feel kind of connected. I think part of this movie is the connections that we all have. So trying to find that balance [meant] leaning a little more into saturation for the ’80s scenes,” Khan shared with Us. “Then having the differentiation be more [for] the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the technology and that kind of stuff. There were more similarities than differences.”

The teenage era! Over the years, shows like Riverdale and Heartstopper have found their fanbases by telling stories set in high school. In 2017, viewers were introduced to the iconic characters from Archie Comics as they investigated their small town amid a mysterious murder. Even though the main group of friends were established students at […]

Khan said having the story be set mainly in the ’80s helped her creative process.

“It helped the story and the comedy because if Jamie could just go to a place and report this, people just wouldn’t believe her. She’s able to lie quite readily in terms of even enrolling in her school. It’s very lax in a way that I think helps our story, but also frustrates our main character because there’s nobody that she can talk to in a legit way,” she concluded. “We have even a whole thing about DNA not being a thing back then. So it was fun to play the comedy of that, but it also helps our story because this girl’s on her own and she’s got to convince people that she’s not crazy. It worked on two levels for us.”

Totally Killer is now streaming on Prime Video.

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