Directed by Justin Dec.
Starring Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Peter Facinelli, Dillon Lane, Tichina Arnold, Tom Segura, and P.J. Byrne.
When a nurse downloads an app that claims to predict the moment a person will die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With the clock ticking and a figure haunting her, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out.
Justin Dec’s Countdown is an indecisive Young Adult horror tale of the most distracting variety. It strives to be the hit of the high school party. Horrific, comical, progressively pointed towards social issues – to the detriment of cohesion. What Dec aims for is “Final Destination for the #MeToo” generation. What’s delivered is another hapless social media haunter that makes up rules as it progresses. Can I admire a shock or two as victims’ pasts manifest in demonic form? Once or twice ya burnt me, Dec. Do these instances make up for breaking almost every foolish genre rule in the book? Please, horror movie characters, DO BETTER.
Elizabeth Lail stars as Quinn Harris, an advancing nurse who downloads what colleagues call a silly time-wasting application. “Countdown” tells you when you’re going to die, complete with a ticking clock, and Quinn’s reads only days left to live. Can’t be real, right? Quinn attempts to delete the app, but it won’t erase. She alters her plans on “death day,” then is hit with a breach of user’s agreement. The more Quinn tries to ignore “Countdown,” the more visions of a ghoulish presence haunt her every move. What begins as a silly game becomes a fight for survival, attempting to reverse Quinn’s hardcoded fate.
The diligence of “Time’s Up” filmmaking is not to be overlooked, but Countdown’s (un)subtlety does the topic no favors. Vile men are caricature predators who fail to promote enraged injustice, shoehorned into a story about biblical monsters programming new curses for the digital age. Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli doing his worst Michael Madsen) exploits his superior position as Quinn’s sexually harassing boss, Tom Segura’s tech repair nerd a chauvinistic womanizer, yet Dec is too overt for his own good. Manufactured feminism never earns its backlash points, going so far to include the line “Time’s up you rapey fuck!” A sentiment we can all agree deserves to be projected loudly, but here, commentaries are so on-the-nose they feel insufficiently outdated.
Into the realm of scares we wander, as Dec cherrypicks his favorite squeals and employs them time and time again. At PG-13, Countdown caters to its teenage audience by leaning heavily on jolts that frustrate and fumble. Two setpieces design something more sinister – a bathroom stall freakout and under-the-bed hideaway – otherwise Dec only displays an ability to crank a banshee’s shriek while something charges or lunges towards the camera. It’s never particularly lasting, but at least Countdown’s messenger rocks a hooded gallows vibe worth approval. Break the app’s terms and conditions, suffer punishment at the hands of the Grim Reaper’s second cousin.
The film’s main, and prevailing issue is a tireless ability to hit all the horror genre norms that’ve sucked me out of scarier stories. Characters who have *one* lifesaving job (don’t leave the blessed salt circle) yet do *exactly* what they’re instructed against to sidestep plot stagnancy. Random willy-nilly introductions, such as P.J. Byrne’s demon-obsessed pastor who’s presented as a jarring jokester against an otherwise sternly serious tone – then forgotten when he’d have been most useful? A structure that starts *immediately* with teenagers downloading the deadly app, via mistaken recommendation for weight-loss tracker “Countdown to Skinny” gone awry, offering no buildup and never recovers from architectures of coincidence. Countdown is *aggressively* infuriating based on the most basic horror merits, mistaking jump scares for a substitute to narrative substance.
There are flashes of something better, thanks to Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography. Shots of Countdown’s revenant lurking in the shadows like a cloaked executioner, or a finale glimpse that blends sunburst auras with a slow-motion exclamation point. Dec displays an ability to creep audiences out, even if said creeps are beaten into the ground. Building blocks rest in place, but the glitches throughout Countdown overshadow what could have been devastating terror for the digital age. Even the sleepover crowd will struggle with the defined logic behind storytelling motivations, making the app’s 3.6-star rating (canonical in the film) quite an overshoot.
My total number of sighs and rolled eyes greatly outweighs the handful of times I sunk rattled into my seat, which is the most telling factor about Countdown. Every beat is teeny-horror 101. Right down to Jordan Calloway’s introduction as a male counterpart to Quinn who happens to be at the same tech store Quinn’s also inside, at the same time, igniting a doomed relationship. Talitha Eliana Bateman’s sister to Quinn, fighting the same evil when she defies wishes and downloads the app. Together, they piece obvious clues while ignoring anything that might cause viewers to balk because why dive deeper than surface value plot development? Spoilers that needn’t be divulged here.
Another Halloween, another barely-marketed horror film wholly banking on the holiday for audience attraction. Countdown is never worth the summation of its most accomplished achievements – a mere few minutes, frankly – like a beta test that’s loaded with bugs being worked out in real-time. The *basic* idea lands, but that’s the issue – “basic.” We’ve seen more succinct, more vocal, and positively more entertaining October titles fly under the radar before. The kind of age-demographic genre title that misunderstands how horror movies are *so much more* than a few “gotcha” gags.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).