Directed By Justin Dec
Starring – Anne Winters, Elizabeth Lail, Charlie McDermott
The Plot – When a nurse (Winters) downloads an app that claims to predict the moment a person will die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With the clock ticking and a figure haunting her, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out.
Rated PG-13 for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, adult language and thematic elements
– Avenue exploration. While there are a fine series of questions, all containing spoilers, that this movie didn’t answer by its 84th and final minute of the film, the attention given to fighting this app through a series of clever attempts are ones that gave me a psychological connection with the movie that most modern day horror films overlook. It seems like everything that the characters did to gain an advantage over it were things that I previously screamed at the screen for, resulting in several instances where the film digs deeper in finding its conflict resolution. This is at least a movie where the characters feel like they know how to use a cellular device, and pull of its strings of chance together to save a few lives along the way, and while I have my own problems with the film’s overly predictable ending, the effort established to brainstorming is one that I commend the movie greatly for.
– Fleshed out narrative. Contrary to belief after reading this review, I actually do think the plot is an interesting enough idea, with a nice social commentary not only on the addictions of gimmick-heavy web applications, but also serving as a cautionary tale for the kind of devil in the details that many characters overlook. But the biggest benefit that the movie has with its narrative is the imagination given to the accommodating backstory that really proves that all hands were on-deck with regards to its creativity. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the genesis of this app predates technology as a whole, giving reasoning to its capabilities, which often feel supernatural in extensive pursuit. There are a lot of holes to what develops, but this seems like the most focused aspect of the screenplay, as well as an attempt to give a face to the mayhem that transpires.
– Uninspiring musical score. I hate to call out a composer by name here, but the work done by Danny Bensi completely lacks imagination or the pulse necessary to sell the story’s atmospheric elements. It begins with the film’s double intro of characters and situations, where the same song with the exact same lyrics play in each of these scenes, making it feel like a do-over that the film’s own screenplay has backed out of. In addition to this, the tones themselves are glorified stock sounds that feel like they are off of a CD that houses use during Halloween to put trick-or-treaters in the mood. The familiar beats are the ominous plunges that come about as often as disappointment does in this movie. These are joined by trope piano keys with as much of a volume presence as a conscience for the movie’s director. There’s nothing memorable about it in the slightest, and what’s even worse is it conjures up no air of tension or slight unnerving because it often feels too restrained.
– Bland performances. You could’ve drawn this collection of fresh faces from any ambitious actor or actress looking to break onto the scene in Hollywood, but the ones we got here are nothing short of impressive, for how little emotional weight they instill upon the dynamic of the scene. Lail, who is often attention-stealing in Lifetime Television’s “You” is nothing more than a conventional outline for a horror protagonist, right down to the deceased parent and lack of romantic relationship that helps keep her eye on the prize. There’s nothing compelling or even remotely interesting about her character, and it only gets worse from here for the rest of the cast. Co-protagonist Jordan Calloway tries as hard as he may to have a spunky and comedic personality, but his resonating warmth on the picture is similar to tube socks in a snow storm, without the shoes to protect them from frost bite. We are chilled in more than one way by his performance, but usually it’s in the unusual accepted final takes used for his delivery that brought unintentional laughter to me every time he tried to unleash a presence on the film. Usually, horror films can manage one interesting character to stand out above the rest, but in “Countdown”, the clock runs out on the hope that any of these actors will be remembered for anything other than the underwhelming pulse they emit in making this film feel twice its length.
– Lack of scares. I know, big surprise right? Who would’ve thought that a movie about a killer phone app wouldn’t be bone-chilling cinema? And what’s even worse is that it’s stuffed full of my favorite trope; predictably timely jump scares that are as obvious as this movie’s final grade. Beyond there being a suffocating amount of these, which lose their flavor of originality by the twenty minute mark of this movie, the screenplay’s lack of care when repeating the very same ones, some even in the same scene, are mind-blowing to say the least, and prove just how little attention or emphasis was given in making this a good time even for the light-weight horror fans. There’s no atmosphere to make time feel claustrophobic, no unique design for the monster that stalks the prey, and no haunting imagery to really bring forth the dire desperation of the situation. It all falls flat, and makes me even question if I can label this horror in my website categorizing.
– Prolonged conflict. Let’s be honest, this movie should only be around ten minutes long. Why it isn’t is because of some numb-skull characters, who even after seeing a death of a friend or significant other still download the app regardless. Maybe if there was an attempt to solve the riddle of its rendering then I could justify why you would follow in the footsteps of the deceased, but these mouth-breathers sit and wait for death in a way that offers nothing of circumstance to the bluff that they were calling towards something that has clearly already proven itself. In turn, their lack of meaningful screen time has no weight of consequence for the movie, ushering them in and out like the very death toll padding that they so obviously are. It brings back memories of my father asking if I would jump off of the very same bridge my friends did. “Countdown” slaps my father with a very resounding YES!!!
– Tension-starved. This is especially on the shoulders of the gimmick of time itself, which is bent and meandered throughout the film in a way that removes any shred of urgency from the movie. In my opinion, the film should’ve played through in real time, that way the tension materializes in a race against the clock that the audience can feel building with anticipation because of how they are able to follow along with it. Here, some clocks barely extend beyond the scene they are introduced, and some stretch for far too long, giving us nothing of vulnerability to sell the terror of the curse. This problem rests with Dec more than anyone, because he, like the characters, never keeps his eyes on the clock, choosing to supplant a series of scenes in between checking, that make it feel like a lifetime has passed rather than the numbers that are being displayed on-screen. It’s a fumble of expectations from the very opening step, and prove that this movie was doomed to fail from its inception.
– Tonally unjust. If this film got rid of the seriousness, and just had fun with the lunacy of the gimmick, in the same way something like “Happy Death Day” does, only then would it have a chance at solidifying its audience. As it stands, this film boggles down interest with an abundance of wordy exposition and a tonal direction that it simply never earns with its PG-13 limitations. When you look at the best scene from the movie, a phone store scene with comedian Tom Segura, only then can you start to understand why its everything else surrounding this scene that fails the movie. Segura is easily my favorite character in the movie, mainly for the way he uses humor to shield him from the doom and gloom that the film constantly promotes. The scene itself is full of personality and understanding, for why a job like this would outline the grouch you see before you. It’s the only time when “Countdown” doesn’t overthink itself, nor leave you bored by the way it approaches its gimmick, making us wonder what might have been.
– Unoriginal. If the plot doesn’t remind you of films like predecessors like “The Ring” or “Final Destination”, the inclusion of some obvious homages to classic films of the genre left me upset that this film even had the guts to parody. One deals with “The Shining”, in that a familiar number comes into play during a hospital scene in the world of “Countdown”. The other and more obscure reference is a popular line from “Freaks” that in inserted in way that will unfortunately link the two movies together, in a way where you can’t hear the line without thinking of the other. I can understand these films having an impact on the director, but their inclusion is so random and lacking context that its obviousness is only overshadowed by its desire to be reminded of far greater films that you should be watching.
– Predictability. There’s about thirty minutes left in this film where an obvious out materializes, and the final act of the movie becomes clearly illustrated ahead of time. To say I was right about every aspect of this film’s closing moments is the understatement of the year. It writes itself into such a corner that there honestly was no other way the film could rightfully conclude with, but telegraphing is far from the biggest problem in this regard. My biggest problem is how the movie takes what is undoubtedly a gutsy ending, and then squirms its way out of it with an escape route that is every bit unbelievable as it is conventionally safe. When you ignore that this angle by itself is impossible with the rules and contexts set-up within the movie, you allow yourself to be even more disappointed by the last few closing moments that cement this as one of the worst films of 2019.
My Grade: 2/10 or F-