Written by: Matt Patti | October 24th, 2019
Countdown (Justin Dec, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
‘Tis the season of witches, vampires, zombies, ghouls, and many other creatures that go bump in the night, but what better film to release around Halloween than one featuring the scariest thing of all … technology? In all seriousness, I was looking forward to this film in the surprisingly barren selection of Halloween-time horror movies released this year. Sure, Zombieland: Double Tap is around, but I consider that more of a comedy/action adventure film than pure horror. Thus, we have Countdown, seemingly the lone pure horror wide release of Halloween.
Countdown follows a young nurse, Quin Harris (Elizabeth Lail of Netflix’s You), who downloads a new app called “Countdown.” This app gives the user an exact countdown to when they will die. Some may get a 40-year countdown, some a 60-year countdown, but some may get one much shorter. Unfortunately for Quinn, her countdown till death is only about three days. She doesn’t sweat it, at first, until she finds out that others have died after claiming their countdown was almost up. Now, Quinn must race against the clock to figure out how to extend her countdown and extend her life. But is there really anything people can do to change when their time will come?
Unsurprisingly, the strength of writer/director Justin Dec’s thriller is its premise. As soon as I saw the trailer for Countdown I was interested, although I must point out that I recommend not watching the trailer for this film before seeing it, if at all possible. Unfortunately, like so many films these days, the trailer shows way too much and spoils some of the film’s best scenes. Nonetheless, the premise is a good one: what would you do if you found out you were going to die in a few days? Would you try everything in your power to prevent it? Would you accept it? Or would you simply ignore it and dismiss it? The plot is much deeper than those surface level questions, however, as the app has some sinister inner-workings and history. Sadly, we find out about these, along with our main characters, through a heavy, exposition-filled info-dump scene halfway through the movie.
However, for as good and interesting as the premise was, the film falters quite a bit in other areas. First, the performances: outside of Lail’s performance as Quin, which was satisfactory, all other performances were either dull, over-the-top, not believable, or simply forgettable, save for one actually humorous tech wiz who appears in a few scenes. It’s a shame that the premise and Lail’s performance were weighed down so much by these other cardboard cutout performances, which sadly were really distracting and took me out of the movie, at times.
Aside from the poor performances, another issue I had with the film was that there were a few unnecessary scenes and characters that could have been cut from the film and honestly made no difference in the end. The film’s predictable ending left much to be desired, though, as it ended with a huge cliché that anyone could have seen coming. Also, the film made a choice at the end that I was actually happy with, and then went back on that choice, completely negating the effectiveness of a previous scene. There also happens to be a post-credit scene, for some reason, which I wasn’t expecting, that is completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the film. It actually contradicts most of what the film set up and should have been left out, in my opinion.
Aside from the negatives, I must give credit where credit is due and say that Countdown featured some surprisingly effective tension-building and scares. There were plenty of jump-scares, for sure, and so people adamantly hating jump-scares will most likely not enjoy this film. However, only a few of the jump-scares were cheap. The rest were genuinely frightening and creepy, and had a purpose. There are also quite a few scenes that built tension well and left me on the edge of my seat, often earning a jump-scare at the end or simply leaving the viewer with something creepy to chew on.
Overall, I think Countdown could have been a lot better, especially with such a strong and interesting premise, but was let down by shoddy performances, clichés, and an unsatisfying ending. However, I still was entertained throughout the film and found some of the scenes genuinely scary. I think it’s worth a watch for the premise alone, but I feel like this film might have been a better fit for Netflix or a VOD service. I think it would have been a pleasant surprise on Netflix, outshining most of their horror films, but for a film getting a wide release in theaters it was ultimately a bit disappointing, especially in terms of the performances. Who knows, maybe someday Countdown could end up on Netflix, in which case it would be a welcome addition.