On the Count of Three, 2022.
Directed by Jerrod Carmichael.
Starring Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Henry Winkler, Lavell Crawford, Craig Arnold, Sydney Van Delft, Allison Busner, Jamie Mac, Clyde Whitham, Gryffin Hanvelt, Matthew Gorman, Zachary Aiello, Jared Abrahamson, Tori Hammond, Derrick Reeve, and Yeva Light.
Val has reached a place where he feels the only way out is to end things. But he considers himself a bit of a failure—his effectiveness lacking—so he figures he could use some help. As luck would have it, Val’s best friend, Kevin, is recovering from a failed suicide attempt, so he seems like the perfect partner for executing this double suicide plan. But before they go, they have some unfinished business to attend to.
For better or worse, childhood best friends Val and Kevin (played by Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott respectively and with dynamite chemistry) are unwaveringly loyal. That deep commitment also allows Jerrod Carmichael (making his directorial debut from a script by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch) to, as a filmmaker, go to some dark and extreme thematic places. On the Count of Three is one of the gutsiest American debut features recently put to screen, made impressive by finding laughs and earnest bromance through the looming follow-through of a suicide pact. It absolutely should not work tonally (and there are one or two moments where pulling back from dark comedy might prove beneficial), but it does.
Val seems to be depressed from relationship troubles with his girlfriend Natasha (even though it’s an arguably underutilized five minutes, it’s one of Tiffany Haddish’s best and most emotionally powerful performances). Kevin is involuntarily checked into a psychiatric ward following a suicide attempt. As it turns out, Val is also considering taking his own life, clearly unfulfilled beyond romance, drained of meaningful purpose working a dead-end job, coming home to Natasha feeling as if he has nothing interesting or valuable to talk to her about. Through some sly smarts that don’t necessarily feel entirely believable (it’s easier to go along with that, especially considering the unsettling, hyperventilating suspense of the unfolding these best friends go on), Val busts Kevin out of the psychiatric ward. He also directs Kevin to a bag containing two pistols, stating that his desire to kill himself and that they should shoot each other in the head on the count of three.
Cue Papa Roach’s Last Resort (a song that defined a generation of suicidal and depressed teenagers and adults) for not only one of the most impactful uses of a licensed piece in quite some time but a sign that even if some of the jokes are a bit rocky or slightly too extended, Jerrod Carmichael has a feel for how to interrogate poor mental health driven by angst, bullying, and two lifetimes of trauma.
Take a moment early on inside a diner when Kevin (a blistering breakdown of performance from Christopher Abbott that brings to mind Michael Douglas in Falling Down) bumps into a high school bully, now married and with children, attempting to make amends for physical abuse while joking about his actions and not issuing the apology one bit seriously. For Kevin, who pretty much has nothing in life (and yes, there’s a case that we don’t know enough about his personality, but given the horrifying backstory, there is empathy here), the situation almost feels like taunting from a higher entity. Here is someone who caused another person great pain that karma didn’t care about. No, he was rewarded. Even worse, his wife doesn’t seem too bothered about some shocking things her husband admits.
However, the above serves as a trigger for something else; a far more disturbing abuse at the hands of a psychiatrist when Kevin was a child. Before Kevin and Val kill themselves, they decide they’ll make the most of that day, throwing caution to the wind. They are going to kill this doctor. There also happens to be a decently sized gap between his office availability, so what ensues is essentially a hangout comedy where Kevin and Val tie up loose ends in life before taking fate into their hands. This results in Val confronting his abusive father and unhappy partnership with Natasha, also proving to be gutwrenching sequences.
There are moments to be grateful for Kevin and Val enabling and standing up for one another, and an equal amount that reinforces negativity. And while the script could further probe some of the experienced trauma, so they come across less as an explored plot devices, there are flashes of brilliance in deconstructing the mindset of a potential suicide victim as Kevin and Val open up about their feelings, sometimes delude themselves, and share gallows jokes that might make you disappointed in yourself for finding funny. Jokes involve everything from gun control to making fun of crazy white mass murderers, walking an edgy tightrope with success.
But it is funny, and while the final scene leaves something to be desired (if you’re concerned the movie backs out, don’t worry about that, as there is definitely no happy ending here), On the Count of Three is bracingly tense and detonates well before three seconds into its running time. Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael are outstanding, with the latter announcing himself instantly as a filmmaker to watch
Regardless of how much I enjoyed On the Count of Three, this movie unquestionably deserves a trigger warning, so it feels right to share the message critics were also sent: This film contains subject matter related to mental health and suicide. If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741) to talk to someone who can help.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com