Totem starts out as a very potent horror story. Unfortunately, it ends up taking several bad turns.

Totem seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly it was released for Halloween. Sometimes this can mean excellence is about to hit us.

A great example of this was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which had been shot under other titles. We knew of the movie, but not as a Cloverfield project.

In the case of Totem? Not so much excellent as a missed opportunity.

However, I have to admit that I was very intrigued for the first half of the movie. Probably even longer than that.

Still, this was around the time the timeline got messed up. Also, a ghost was shown and it didn’t look too good.

I mean that literally; The effects simply were not good!

What happened in editing?

The experience of watching Totem started to get messed up for me before the story went to Hell. The first problem was when it became clear that something strange went on in editing.

At one point, the lead character, Kellie (Kerris Dorsey), has very visibly scraped knees. But how did this happen?

We’ve seen her run track, but not get hurt in any way, so it was strange that this injury was so obviously shown.

Cut to a scene sometime later; We see her fall while running as she gets distracted by something odd in the bleachers.

Clearly, this means the original timeline for the telling of this story has been altered. I don’t know why and I don’t really care. The problem is it looks sloppy and doesn’t help other issues.

Totem (2017) Horror Movie Review

Much credit to the actors

I want to make it clear that I feel the actors all did a really good job. I may not be particularly fond of all of them but in Totem, they all do the best with what they’re given.

Especially Kerris Dorsey (Ray Donovan) and Ahna O’Reilly (Kingdom) give great performances.

The problem with Totem is at the core of the story. And I can’t really get into that without spoiling the plot, so I won’t.

But when the story started evolving in the way it did, I found myself saying out loud; “Oh no, they’re not going to…” and a whole lot of expletives. This is such an old cliché. One of the oldest.

And in this case, it’s very inappropriate and the very opposite of innovative. Also, you can see all the plot twists coming a mile away.

An old man who is constantly puffing on an asthma inhaler? First of all, that’s not how an asthma inhaler works; You don’t just puff on the damn thing like it’s a cigarette. And second, you’ll never guess how he’ll suddenly be in a potentially fatal predicament.

I expected more from Totem

Even though I hadn’t heard anything about Totem up front, I expected more. The reason for this was the director. His name is Marcel Sarmiento and he made the brilliant Deadgirl in 2008.

Sarmiento hasn’t directed a feature film since then. He has made a few short films used in horror anthologies like The ABCs of Death and V/H/S Viral, but no feature film. Till now.

In between Deadgirl and Totem, he did work in the editorial department on The Invitation, which was a pretty brilliant movie.

Totem was written by Evan Dickson and based on a story by Evan Dickson himself and the director Marcel Sarmiento. This is the first feature film for Evan Dickson.

Marcel Sarmiento has a new movie coming out in 2018 called Faceless. Hopefully, that one will be a feature film comeback for him. This one sure wasn’t.

Totem was released on VOD and cable (Cinemax) in the US on October 31, 2017.


Director: Marcel Sarmiento
Cast: Jocelyn Ayanna, Aja Bair, Allison Caetano, Ahna O’Reilly, James Tupper


A teen must resort to extreme measures to protect her family from a supernatural entity.

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!
Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard
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