Hollywood didn’t show horror fans much love last October. Over the 2000’s, horror fans were spoiled with annual Halloween franchise traditions. First, Saw movies became an October rite of passage, followed a few years of Paranormal Activity sequels. And 2017 gave us the best October movie – a proper Halloween sequel. But last year all we got was Countdown. Yet another entry in the ‘techno-horror‘ subgenre, critics hated the killer app movie. In spite of its tepid critical response, Countdown scored pretty well at the box office.
Nurse Quinn Harris and her co-workers download a new app, Countdown, as a joke. The app promises to tell you the precise moment when you will die. But the joke is short-lived when the app gives Quinn just three days to live. Unease gives way to genuine fear when a hospital patient who also downloaded the app mysteriously dies – at the precise predicted moment. When she discovers she can’t delete the app, Quinn panics to uncover its secret before her ‘countdown’ runs out.
Countdown Offers a Few Good Jolts, But Not Much Else
With its opening scene, Countdown actually shows some flicker of promise. It’s actually quite a fun slice of PG-13 tension and jolts that wouldn’t be out of place in a Final Destination movie. Making his feature-length directorial debut, Justin Dec can’t translate this style into cohesive and sustained scares. Over the course of its 90 minutes, Countdown produces a few good jumps. While these moments are overly reliant on ‘loud sounds’ and hyper-editing, they do still work. Occasionally, Dec taps back into that earlier creepy vibe when the movie’s demonic presence lurks in corners. Nevertheless, Countdown largely drags with its scares sporadically spread out and feeling disconnected from the overall story.
Making his feature-length directorial debut, Justin Dec can’t translate this style into cohesive and sustained scares.
In particular, Countdown’s climax feels needlessly overstuffed without ever putting you on the edge-of-your-seat. Keep in mind that this is a movie with a running timer on characters’ lives. Its final act should have been a case of rapidly escalating tension. Instead, Dec offers an ending that feels like a cheat. And the tease for a potential sequel is just salt in the wound. As for the movie’s demonic anatoginst, it strikes a creepy note when kept in shadowy backgrounds. Excessive CGI and a lack of mythology drain it of most of its menace by the movie’s conclusion.
Killer App Movie a Dog’s Breakfast of The Ring and Final Destination Movies
A generic, dog’s breakfast of a story further lets Countdown down. Director Justin Dec also wrote the screenplay, and he doesn’t seem to have anything to say about our smartphone technology and apps. Ultimately, the killer app is just employed as a gimmick to target its scares at teen audiences. In regards to the basic story, Countdown is a bit of The Ring mixed in with the Final Destination movies. Whereas Final Destination found innovative – and queasy – ways to kill people, Countdown is a bloodless, unimaginative chore.
Ultimately, the killer app is just employed as a gimmick to target its scares at teen audiences
The story unfolds like a checklist of ‘techo-horror’ tropes. For instance, the movie’s prologue uses random characters to introduce its concept and then conveniently transition to our main heroine. Strange events happen as the countdown starts – to ensure periodic jumps, of course – and our heroine does the ‘research’ thing as a means of exposition. To keep things timely, Dec shoehorns in a #MeToo subplot that’s too superficial to do it any justice.
Countdown Has a Decent Cast, But Paper-Thin Characters
Like its story, Countdown’s characters are, by and large, one-note outlines rather than actual people. With a thin and tired arc, these characters are really just mean to fulfil certain story obligations. You alumni Elizabeth Lail and Annabelle: Creation’s Talitha Bateman fare the best out of the cast. Both performers are talented, convincing, and do the best with what they have to work. Though Countdown saddles PJ Byrne as the forced comic relief, he jumps into his role as ‘Father John’ with enough infectious charm to inject a little bit of fun when he’s onscreen. Similarly, comedian Tom Segura burdens the role of not one, but two, character tropes. He’s both awkward comic relief and plot device intended to move the story forward. Why Countdown felt the need to include a mid-credit scene with Segura’s character is a question best left unanswered.
Countdown Doesn’t ‘Count Down’ to the End Fast Enough
Okay, Hollywood! We get it. Social media, smartphones, and our viral culure are bad. Consider Countdown just the most recent attempt to channel scares through our selfie-obsessed scares. While it’s not the worst of the lot, it’s not particularly inspiring either. Essentially, Countdown is a competently produced and acted movie with a few jolts wrapped in a generic story. There’s not much to recommend here – Countdown is the kind of horror movie best reserved for a day when there’s nothing else to watch and it’s free on Netflix.