Countdown Needs A Day One Patch (Movie Review)

Countdown’s success at delivering thrills should have been as easy as, well, downloading an app. By now, there is a formula – perfected by the Final Destination series for random folks doing whatever they can to avoid their untimely demise. Add a spooky shot of The Ring for maximum ticking clock syndrome and presto! After all, not all scary movies need to leave viewers with a sense of dread as they exit the multiplex. A silly high concept boo-fest via a literal “killer app” should have been as fun as Happy Death Day’s Groundhog Day-meets-slasher flick conceit. And yet…

On the eve of becoming a registered nurse, Quinn’s (Elizabeth Lail) busy life gets even more hectic after she installs an app that allegedly tells anyone with a smartphone when they will die. Down to the second. Quinn is nervous as the app informs her she has less than three days. (Conversely, her colleagues have decades). Of course, no one takes it seriously. Well, no one except Quinn, who speaks to a severely depressed teen claiming his girlfriend died after using the app, and he now has only 19 hours left – which is when he’s scheduled for surgery.

We, the audience, know this app is the real deal since before we meet Quinn, the film’s final girl, Countdown opens with a bunch of drunk teens and that app. Like Scream or countless other teen horror picks, this sets up the concept quickly and ends with a death.

All of this is pretty standard for the teen horror genre, but Countdown is actually about a young twenty-something who misses her dead mom, has been neglecting her younger sister, and works with a doctor (Twilight‘s Peter Facinelli) who’s a violent sexual predator. Those first few character beats are fine, but having Quinn sexually assaulted minutes after the previously mentioned teen is haunted by his dead girlfriend creates tonal whiplash. Is this a movie that knows it’s silly or does it want to be a more somber take on how trapped anyone can feel when some of the worst qualities of human behavior collide with one’s career? This makes watching the film a mixed bag at best, a tone-deaf mess at worst.

A shame, as I was all for the ridiculous premise. In what feels like reshoots, the second half of the film introduces a fanboy priest (comedian P.J. Byrne) who keeps the energy up by telling Quinn the bible is like the original graphic novel. He geeks out at the prospect of helping Quinn. Yet, for every engaging scene with Quinn, the priest, or a hunky guy (Jordan Calloway) who is also going to die in a few days, there are scenes like Quinn being accused by her sexual assaulter as the one that came on to him. Seriously?

Elizabeth Lail is a plucky enough final girl. She even resembles a young A.J. Cook who starred in the best Final Destination, part 2. Lail leans into her inner amateur sleuth, trying to break the code. There’s a nice moment where a cell phone store guy (comedian Tom Segura) hacks the app, which leads to some fun twists. But even then, the kinds of moments that are staples are just okay. The kills are rather generic, and there’s not too much as far as the mythology of how software is killing people beyond the dated maybe it’s a demon! trope. And jumps scares run rampant.

And yet… this ain’t my first rodeo. I remember how the first Annabelle and Ouija were both mediocre, yet their box office success led to superior sequels. If Countdown is a hit, I’m ready for the 2.0 upgrade.

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