A dire public service warning about the importance of reading user agreements before accepting their terms and conditions.
Talk about a killer premise! How about this: an app that counts down to the moment you die! It’s so simple you wonder why no movie has used it before, but it’s a good thing someone finally got around to it, because the result is Countdown, a film that deftly blends elements of Final Destination, One Missed Call, and Ring into an enjoyable brew of suspense and spooktacular thrills.
It all starts one one of those parties where kids are drinking too much, and when someone discovers the Countdown app, peer pressure quickly leads everyone to download it; when the first victim blithely clicks to accept the terms and conditions without bothering to read them, her fate is so obviously sealed that using the word “victim” earlier in this sentence is no spoiler. What’s interesting, however, is that, fearing her rapidly approaching doom, she refuses to let her drunk boyfriend drive her home, thus avoiding her intended fate; unfortunately for her, it turns out that cheating a natural death leads only to a far more horrible, unnatural death.
The scenario uses this set up as an excuse for a series of clever set pieces, in which supernatural manifestations increasingly impinge on the lives of victims whose appointed time is rapidly approaching (though perhaps not conscious, this feels like a callback to the granddaddy of this type of story, M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes,” famous adapted into the 1958 film Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon). The actual plot kicks in when our audience identification figure, Quinn (Elizabeth Lail), a young nurse, downloads the app after a patient dies. Quinn has one of those back stories that needs to be resolved: she’s been estranged from her remaining family since blaming herself for the death of her mother. Dealing with this is never going to interfere with the scares, but it does give the character something to do besides worrying about impending death.
Eventually, a trip to an oddball priest (who seems more interested in demonology than theology) reveals that the app is a modern version of an ancient curse, and a trip to a tech-head reveals the app’s underlying code (in Latin, of course), which may provide a clue to cheating death.
The parallel with the Final Destination franchise is obvious, but Countdown actually makes more sense of the situation by offering a fairly coherent rational for what’s happening, which gives the characters a smidgen of hope, which in turn creates more suspense because the outcome is not a foregone conclusion from scene one. Of course, not everything goes according to plan, and victory – if it arrives – is not without its costs, but the film wraps up in a satisfying fashion that doesn’t feel entirely obligatory.
The scare scenes are executed with genuine creepiness, and the film even gets away with presenting the threat visually in a form that looks (at a distance) not too far removed from traditional depictions of the Grim Reaper. The filmmakers employ all the usual tricks and effects, but they are nicely arranged to achieve maximum effect without going overboard.
Lail makes an appealing heroine, and Jordan Calloway offers good support as Matt – though, being black has obvious consequences for his chances of survival (again, this is too obvious to qualify as a spoiler). In the bit parts, Tom Seguar is great as a sarcastic smartphone salesman. P.J. Byrne is way too goofy as the helpful priest who comes across like a nerd at a sci-fi convention. And Peter Facinelli is suitably loathsome as Dr. Sullivan, the hospitals resident sexual harasser, whose ultimate fate raises some questions.
In the final act, Quinn thinks she can thwart the Countdown app – and save her sister – by killing Sullivan before his appointed time. However, she suddenly switches to a different, much better plan, which would seem to involve a little more preparation than she had time for. If she had thought Plan B through in advance, it’s hard to understand why she bothered at all with the doctor, who disappears from the rest of the film, leaving us to wonder whether some last minute editing and re-shooting changed the ending. Did preview audiences object to seeing their heroine turn into a murderer? Was a new ending added to give provide a more innocent resolution? (Something similar was scripted for the 2002 remake of The Ring: Naomi Watts’s character tried to thwart the cursed videotape by giving a copy to a murderer played by Chris Cooper; the scenes were deleted before release.)
However Countdown reached the conclusion we see on screen, it brings the film to a satisfying resolution while leaving room wide open for a sequel. Here’s hoping Countdown 2.0 turns out to be a worthwhile upgrade.
Countdown (2019) Rating
Countdown. A STXfilms Presentation. A Wrigley Pictures Two Grown Men BSFG Production. Written and
directed by Justin Dec. Produced by John Rickard, Zack Schiller, John Morris, Sean Anders. Release Date: October 25, 2019. PG-13. 90 mins.
Quinn Harris ELIZABETH LAIL
Matt Monroe JORDAN CALLOWAY
Jordan Harris TALITHA BATEMAN
Dr. Sullivan PETER FACINELLI
Evan DILLON LANE
Nurse Amy TICHINA ARNOLD
Derek TOM SEGURA
Rachel LANA McKISSACK
Courtney ANNE WINTERS
Charlie MATT LETSCHER
Father John PJ BYRNE
Father David VALENTE RODRIGUEZ