Studio: STX Films
Director: Justin Dec
Writer: Justin Dec
Producer: John Rickard, Zack Schiller, John Morris, Sean Anders
Stars: Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Bateman, Tichina Arnold, P.J. Byrne, Peter Facinelli, Dillon Lane, Matt Letscher, Valente Rodriguez, Tom Segura, Anne Winters
A cursed cellphone app that reveals how much time a person has left to live wreaks havoc on a young nurse struggling to save her sister and a new friend.
What would you do if you knew exactly when you were going to die and how long you had left to live? You wouldn¡¯t spend any remaining minutes watching ¡°Countdown¡± because that would be a tragic misuse of your time.
In this 2019 version of the endlessly recycled ¡°young adults are supernaturally tormented after inadvertently invoking a curse¡± setup, a mysterious cellphone app called ¡®Countdown¡¯ provides users with an ominous timer ticking down to their deaths. These expiration dates are non-news for anyone destined to live to a ripe old age. For those with significantly less time, discovering you have only days or even hours left in your lifespan can be a serious cause for concern.
Naturally, no one reads the terms and conditions upon downloading the app. If they did, they¡¯d know trying to sidestep your fate constitutes a breach of the user agreement.
What does the penalty entail? Courtney finds out firsthand in the film¡¯s overlong prologue. Dared to download Countdown while partying with her high school friends, Courtney learns she is set to die that night. Rattled by the prediction, the 17-year-old wisely refuses a ride from her drunk boyfriend that would overlap with her timer¡¯s endpoint. Courtney immediately receives a notification that she violated the app¡¯s terms.
When her countdown eventually expires, a paranormal presence throws the girl around her bathroom. At the same time, a tree branch impales the passenger seat where Courtney should have been sitting. One way or another, Courtney was destined to die.
This ¡°can¡¯t escape a preordained death¡± premise comes packed with imaginative ¡°what if¡± possibilities. What if someone appeared on live TV or in a crowded public space at his/her appointed kill time? What if someone tried waiting out the final hour in the middle of a desert with no external dangers for miles around? What if numerous people had identical timers, indicating an extinction event mystery they had to solve and prevent to save their city?
¡°Countdown¡± doesn¡¯t care about getting creative with its potential. While the film could have fun ratcheting up suspense with gruesome guessing games over what domino line of death will trigger someone¡¯s demise, we see from the first scene that when Countdown¡¯s demon has no other option, he just supernaturally slams someone¡¯s head on a bathtub. Instead of clever kills, we get a ghoul invisibly tossing one guy down stairs and another guy paranormally pulled into the street to be struck by a passing truck. Snore.
The demon doing these deeds doesn¡¯t even have a distinct design. He looks like a mud-covered vagrant dressed in rags. In a wishful thinking alternate universe where ¡°Countdown¡± turned into a hit worth franchising, I can¡¯t imagine how Funko would reduce the evil entity into a uniform Pop figure since he¡¯s already minimized into a lackluster visual.
If I didn¡¯t know better, I¡¯d assume ¡°Countdown¡± was made by pre-huge success Blumhouse. I can only assume producers either couldn¡¯t swing a meeting with Blum or else Jason passed because it isn¡¯t 2014 anymore.
However, ¡°Countdown¡± is executive produced by Gregory Plotkin, who co-produced ¡°Area 51¡± (review here), edited ¡°Happy Death Day¡± (review here), and directed ¡°Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension¡± (review here) among other projects. So someone with a hand on the film¡¯s wheel still intimately understands Blumhouse¡¯s multiplex-friendly formula from every available angle.
¡°Countdown¡± features Blumhouse¡¯s basic brand of sterile scares suited for slumber parties, a clean look and lean edit, an easy-to-follow story, and a photogenic cast with vaguely recognizable names like Peter Facinelli playing comparatively uncomplicated characters. ¡°You know the drill¡± plot points include running to a priest for a healthy dose of mid-movie exposition, unearned guilt over a loved one¡¯s untimely death (¡°if it wasn¡¯t for me, she wouldn¡¯t have been hit by that drunk driver!¡±), and a pair of people providing comic relief to give the movie a pinch of snickering attitude.
This is all well and good when vanilla works fine as a flavor. For sprinkles, syrups, or anything with a slight splash of color, ¡°Countdown¡± comes up empty handed on toppings.
Sticking with food metaphors, ¡°Countdown¡± answers the question, what would a cheap Little Caesar¡¯s Hot-N-Ready look like in PG-13 horror film form? It¡¯s not as bad as Pizza Hut, but we¡¯re still talking mass-market chain chow made from the most plainly palatable ingredients possible. It technically qualifies as pizza, but it¡¯s not what you order when you want to satisfy your taste buds. It¡¯s what you scarf down to stop your stomach from screaming, and quickly fades into the forgotten file of countless other dinner orders ultimately indistinguishable from one another.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 40