Just two weeks after audiences and critics shut down evil Siri comedy Jexi, the smartphone is back causing more trouble on the big screen in glitchy schlock horror Countdown, a Halloween release devoid of tricks, treats and anything even vaguely close to an original idea.
With a plot that cribs from a great deal of other, better horror films, Countdown ultimately owes a staggering debt to 2000’s ferociously effective franchise starter Final Destination (in fact, the scariest thing about the entire endeavour could very well be a lawsuit directed at those involved). Almost two decades later, the conceit has been given a tech upgrade with an app that, once downloaded, will tell the user how long they have to live. After nurse Quinn (You’s Elizabeth Lail) is met with a patient who warns her of the app’s IRL consequences, she irrationally decides to download it, only to be informed that she has just three days left. Initially ignoring the app as a nasty prank, she’s soon plagued with visions, and starts to realise that the clock really is ticking.
As dim on screen as it sounds on paper, Countdown is a wildly ineffective waste of a release date, a film out six days before Halloween yet likely to be forgotten within six hours. Given the endless influx of sub-par wide-releasing horror films, expectations should never be too high for one that might prove at least mildly entertaining, but there’s really no excuse for them to be this bad. Combining elements of Final Destination with Ring, Countdown manages to inelegantly avoid everything about those two films that made them so successful. One of the many terrifying elements of Final Destination was the decision not to personify death (an early iteration of the script actually did turn the grim reaper into a visible character). There was something so chilling about an unseen force constructing inescapable scenarios for those whose numbers were up, and the film revelled in making them as surprising and sadistic as possible. In Countdown, we get a cloaked demon so shoddily brought to life he’d be laughed out of a Halloween party, and with the film’s PG-13 rating, death is quick, merciful and awkwardly edited to appease the censors.
While Ring sent its heroine on a compelling journey to find out the source of the film’s terror, with a plot that worked independently as a mystery, Countdown pairs Lail with Riverdale’s Jordan Calloway and lumbers them with an uninvolving and incoherent scramble from a phone repair shop all the way to a church. The specifics of the plot aren’t that specific, and the film isn’t able to back up its diverting premise with much of an explanation, although in trying to do so, by going back through history, there is some unintentional hilarity (at one point, someone says “This app seems like a new version of what that old gypsy lady did!”).
It’s a brief 90 minutes – but even that requires writer-director Justin Dec to pad the film out. The majority of characters who download the app are informed they have years to live, and so the film’s pool of victims is miniscule, and therefore death scenes are few and far between. To fill time, Dec decides to employ a misjudged #MeToo subplot involving a doctor at the hospital where Lail’s character works, played with extra ham by Peter Facinelli. Regrettably, the setting also finds space for an underused Tichina Arnold, so great in little-seen TV comedy Survivor’s Remorse and briefly this year in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Lail is a cog within an engine and her character bears no characteristics other than “nurse”, while Calloway does manage to inject some charm into yet another thankless role.
Even on its own very, very basic terms, there are just too many scenes where characters act with utterly illogical idiocy, especially in the final act. Rather than screaming for them to go the other way, you’ll be urging them to accept fate and die instead.
Source: The Guardian