{Movie Review} Countdown is a Bit of a Letdown

Countdown, written and directed by Justin Dec, is a horror movie that wants to be too many things. The film centers around an app named Countdown which accurately predicts how long a person has left to live. If a person uses this knowledge to avoid their fated demise, they breach the app’s terms of service wherein turn the victim will be tormented by the Angel of Death himself until their time runs out and their life is taken.

When a young nurse named Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) downloads the app and finds she and her sister (Talitha Bateman) have a scant three days left to live, she races to outrun the Angel of Death and stop her countdown before it reaches zero.

At first glance, this premise sounds fine. There are much sillier premises that have led to great movies. Countdown’s main problem becomes obvious though the second we learn that Quinn’s app tells her she has three days to live. The film’s fundamental rules tell us that, until Quinn’s timer reaches zero, she’ll be fine.

Quinn is haunted by visions of her dead mother? Well, she still has two days left. The Angel of Death himself appears in Quinn’s rearview mirror? Show me that when she has two minutes left.

Photo Courtesy of The Schiller Film Group

Knowing exactly when the characters are going to die should be a great source of tension. A better movie might make up for this lack of tension by showing us side characters with countdowns shorter than Quinn’s. I could see this movie adopting a slasher movie’s structure, creating tension by making the main character powerless as their friends are picked off, the whole time knowing that their time is ticking. Instead, the deaths are so few and far between those scenes which could’ve been scary have no teeth.

It’s all a shame, too, as the scenes where death does occur are genuinely well done. The first death, in particular, has a few moments that leave the viewer eagerly anticipating the decoy protagonist’s moment of death. Unfortunately, the low death count makes it difficult to care for most of the movie.

It is not that I’m against horror movies with smaller casts. A smaller cast should lead to a more intimate experience, where the audience gets to know just a handful of characters very well. Of course, all that would require well-rounded and interesting characters.

Quinn (Elizabeth Lail), our heroine, is fine, grounded mostly by Lail’s solid performance, but there isn’t much to her character. In a lot of ways, she is very much a stock horror protagonist with some smart bits of characterization. Her occupation as a nurse gives her a useful skillset (even if it is under-utilized). The fact that she cares more about saving her sister than herself also made her just a touch more sympathetic.

Her sister, Jordan, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. She is a forty-year-old man’s idea of a teenage girl. She spends two-thirds of the movie pouting then spends the last third screaming. The best I can say about her is that she doesn’t have enough screen time to get too annoying.

The rest of the supporting cast exists between those two ranges of bland and annoying. Quinn finds a love interest named Matt (Jordan Calloway) whose timer is set to expire a couple of hours before hers. Their romance doesn’t add much but doesn’t take away much either. 

Photo Courtesy of The Schiller Film Group

On the opposite end of the spectrum are two characters who prove much more detrimental to the film. Father John (P.J. Byrne) is an enthusiastic demonologist who helps our protagonists decode what exactly is happening with the app. If the premise slows the film’s tension down, Father John grinds it to a halt. His character is this weird bit of comedic relief in an otherwise serious movie. He makes jokes about Grub Hub, listens to Lil Nas X, and is way too excited about the fact that Quinn is being haunted by a demon. It all feels like leftovers from an earlier draft that was trying to be a horror parody.

There is some comedy to be found in the scenes involving Father John, but all of it comes off as entirely unintentional. Needless to say, there are some avenues Father John leads the plot down that are laughably nonsensical. At the very least, Father John never came across as reprehensible unlike Quinn’s boss, Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli).

Minor spoilers will follow, so be warned.

Dr. Sullivan’s sub-plot makes an otherwise unmemorable movie into something far more distressing. Throughout the film, Dr. Sullivan sexually harasses Quinn. To call it ill-advised or poorly considered is being mild. Its only purpose is to make Dr. Sullivan so irredeemable that a character turn in the third act feels justified. This comes to a head when, for plot reasons, Quinn seduces Dr. Sullivan. This scene was so uncomfortable that I came close to walking out. Assault is a sensitive topic and Countdown treats it with all the grace of a back-alley butcher.

That’s the whole movie, really. Ideas hacked away until all that’s left are the shreds of a good premise and solid performances. Even if you can stomach the film’s more reprehensible elements, all you’re left with is a pile of meat that’s beginning to stink.

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