Updated: Feb 9, 2020
The subgenre of horror where a group of characters are hunted by some unseen force after playing a game (Truth or Dare) or watching a videotape (The Ring) or avoiding death (Final Destination) is not my favorite. The focus is usually on jump-scares and elaborate kills instead of things like character or suspense. Countdown has one of the dumber plots I have seen in one of these and leans very heavily on jump-scares. It is not good, yet it is self-aware and has enough amusing moments to stop it from being actively terrible. It knows it is dumb and has a little fun with it, but not so much fun that it makes this particularly entertaining. It will probably be fairly successful at the box-office since it is coming out the week of Halloween, though there have been much better horror movies this year. Saying it is not as awful as expected is not a recommendation. This is still pretty bad.
A bunch of teenagers at a party download an app that predicts exactly when you will die. All of them have decades to live except one girl who goes home alone before mysteriously dying. The app becomes popular and catches the attention of nurse Quinn who finds out she only has a few days to live. After initially brushing it off, she begins to have visions and decides to figure out how to avoid her fate.
This is all paint-by-numbers, with a weak bit of social commentary thrown in about our obsession with technology and tendency to not read the terms and conditions of the apps we download. The mystery of Countdown, when it is revealed, contains numerous plot holes and is not remotely scary. Plus, there is a subplot at Quinn’s hospital incorporating "me too" components that comes off as forced and exploitative, before getting crammed into the conclusion in impressively contrived fashion. Little effort appears to have been put into any of this. Yet there are moments that convinced me writer/director Justin Dec knew how absurd Countdown was. I laughed quite a bit and I think at least some of the humor was on purpose.
Several of the laughs come from the idiotic decisions of the characters as well as the ludicrously unnecessary actions of the malevolent app. The movie also gets mileage out of the arrogant tech guy and demon-obsessed priest our heroes try to get assistance from. The former, played with unconcealed condescension by Tom Segura, seems like a shot at consumers who do not understand their phones and salesmen who think they are better than you because they can read computer code. His timing is pretty funny. The latter is played by an energetic P.J. Byrne as someone way too excited to be battling evil. He seems like an attempt to admit how cliché the demon-fighting man of the cloth has become, really leaning into the silliness of his character. Or maybe we are meant to take him kind of seriously and I was just so bored by everything else that I found him entertaining. Either way, they both helped me take my mind off of how stupid this is.
All Countdown wants to do is entertain its audience by startling them with jump-scares and creepy visuals for 84 minutes (without the end credits). It does a very poor job at that. It also fails miserably at social commentary. However, it works as self-parody and I choose to believe that is intentional. That makes it a good option for when you feel like getting drunk with your friends and watching a bad movie. Otherwise, hard pass.
1½ out of 5
Elizabeth Lail as Quinn Harris
Jordan Calloway as Matt Monroe
Talitha Bateman as Jordan Harris
P.J. Byrne as Father John
Peter Facinelli as Dr. Sullivan
Tichina Arnold as Nurse Amy
Tom Segura as Derek
Written and Directed by Justin Dec