Countdown

All we have to do is beat the clock by a second!

As you may have read in my recent, Wounds (Babek Anvari, 2019) review, Hollywood seems rather obsessed with selling cell phone horror as a viable trend. This year alone, we have had A.M.I. (Rusty Nixon), Jexi (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore), and Wounds. Prior to that was what may have been the west’s first foray into such a cell data plan, Truth or Dare (Jeff Wadlow). When you think about it, the studios are just doing what they have always done, following popular modern trends that are predominantly fueled by younger, and easier to captivate, audiences. Somehow Countdown (Justin Dec) fails to really come up with any original or unique angles for a great concept that perfectly fits contemporary obsessions and dependencies. If looked at under a microscope, without a cell phone, it’s essentially a carbon copy of the better “how to avoid death” franchise, Final Destination. One need not look any further than its poster, in order to make a confident assessment of what the target demographic will be. I just really think that, with such a viable idea, it was only reasonable to have hoped that somehow Countdown would surprise, even if only by the end. So seeing as how I’m seemingly the most liberal critic for our new and fancy little site, and you can expect me to be covering the majority of questionable releases: just don’t let this be a reflection of what films I actually enjoy, please and thank you. 

Countdown is the latest teen/young adult aimed jump scare horror film that asks you one of the most entry level small talk prompts, “Would you like to know the exact time you will die?”. In order to find out all your answers, all you must do is download the hit app, free of charge, input your information, obviously ignore the terms and agreement section, press accept, and voila! Maybe you’re lucky and have exactly 78 years, 2 months, 12 hours, and 35 seconds to live left! Or maybe like our newer actress lead protagonist, Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), you have 2 days, 14 hours, and 37 seconds left. Countdown does not care for what you would do with you left time, but more so how you would try and overcome the Angel of Death with the time allotted, and thusly we get a low level horror film that is filled with set piece after set piece of extremely lackluster and predictable scares and turns. There is one scare I particularly enjoyed involving someone’s warm arm, wrapped around a character in bed, but it was unfortunately spoiled in the trailers. I’ll tell you right here, right now, if you like or tolerate simplistic jump scares, go for it if you have any interest. If you’re hesitant or had no incentive from any if the marketing, please save your money, wait till it’s on Netflix, and watch Happy Death Day instead. 

As a whole, Countdown was a waste of my time and money. I happened to watch it because, after a very exhaustive Saturday, I had decided that it would be a treat myself pamper hours day: Countdown just happened to be one element in the overall stress-free day. In that regard, I could see an argument made to defend the film in being a very adequate palette cleanser. Certainly filled with many eye-rolling moments, and idiotic choices, there was something I inherently could not deny enjoying from the film. The simple fact that we live in a time where I can guarantee millions of people (mainly teens) would willingly and ignorantly download this app without a single concern in the world. Briefly named earlier, Truth or Dare, accomplished a similar task but in a much more creative if not still stupid fratbro manner. Some of you may be asking yourself, “Why does Lee keep name dropping, Truth or Dare?”. Well, it’s probably because despite being laughably bad, it’s one of the more recent entertaining times I’ve spent in the theatres and it’s the standard to which I may or may not hold these low bar YA horror films, especially cell-horror. Unlike Truth or Dare, Countdown is devoid of any roof scene, lacks an effective middle finger ending, and fails to reach that hilariously bad quota. Countdown suffers from the mistaken notion that it can force you to care for its characters by throwing some loosely pieced together emotional sentiments and back story. In addition to casting a similar horror/drama capable blonde actress, as well as  being heavily set in a hospital with a closed off wing, Countdown even seemingly borrows from the superior, ongoing Happy Death Day series. 

Failing to create any sympathetic characters, I found that to some people’s possible shock, the two best things about the film were, Tom Segura (stand-up comedian, friend of H3H3) and P.J. Byrne (Final Destination 5, The Wolf of Wall Street, Vinyl). The prior plays an incredibly egocentric cynic who owns an independent cellphone shop and off the books jailbreak and hacking services. The latter, who many may recall from his classic Final Destination masseuse scene, plays a wannabe demonologist priest, who spends his excessive downtime blasting Little Nas‘s “Panini“, and munching on the “body of Christ” while waiting for his Grubhub to arrive. The two of them play very small supporting roles, but are probably the only reason I didn’t leave upset. I did not ever expect to witness a Latin curse being turned into code, furthermore even less so, said curse being “hacked”. And I absolutely, did not in my entire life ever imagine I’d hear “Panini” being played in the halls of a holy church! Alas, wonders never cease to exist…

Countdown is only 90 minutes long, and at the time of writing this, only 7 of my mutuals have logged this on Letterboxd. It’s currently sitting at an average of 2.2/5 there, and at a 5.4/10 on IMDb. Those scores seem to accurately reflect the very averageness of the film. While Dec‘s feature directorial debut does supply a few quality shots (more than likely thanks to the very generous Maxime Alexandre), and is rather competently directed overall, I just didn’t see anything that truly stood out to offer something new to the genre. Some may say that there were attempts at a clever twist towards the end, but it’s frankly the very first solution I thought of after seeing the first 45 seconds of the trailer. With a lack of any worthy characterization, an incredibly repetitive cycle, and a massively disappointing lack of creative kills, I quickly began to think about both the original and remake of Flatliners (1990 & 2017). While I have yet to see either, the concept was something that always intrigued me, so much so that it kept coming into mind as I counted down the minutes for Countdown to end. 

Note: There is a mid credit scene, and yes, the film has the courageous audacity to set up a sequel in the cringiest of ways.

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Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. I’m typically known for longer write-ups, and my eclectic taste ranging from awards darlings, European filmé, indie spirits, cinematic universes, and most notably 80s cult films. Hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and remember, watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.

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