Okay, so Countdown – not to be confused with the quiz show, the Robert Altman moon mission movie or the 1996 Lori Petty vehicle no one else remembers – is basically Final Destination but with an app. A midlist ‘teens horror picture on the level of Truth or Dare, Wish Upon, Friend Request, Nerve and many others, it’s smoothly put-together, reasonably well-played by a cast with mostly TV credentials, with jolts and jumps every few minutes for the low-attention-span crowd, and instantly disposable. If you haven’t got the two and a half hours to spare for Doctor Sleep over Halloween, this isn’t really a substitute but it’s a lightly enjoyable quick watch and I’d argue it has more to do with cinema than the average Ken Loach joint.
Various internet sites — the Death Clock is one –will tell you when you’re likely to die if you fill in a form about your health and habits and other actuarial stuff. In the world of this movie, an equivalent app (perhaps created by the demon Ozhin) only requires your name and signing up to the terms and conditions (which, of course, no one actually reads) to install a countdown clock to death on your mobile tablet. One of the best jokes in the film is that most of the horrible characters are set to have long lives, and it’s only innocents who find out they have hours to go before meeting some fate. Of course, you can now download a tie-in app and die in order to promote the movie.
Writer-director Justin Dec struggles a bit to get the premise, which has a sub-clause about a demonic figure showing up to off you if you try to avoid fate, explained as some early kids get sacrificed before we get to heroine Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), a newly-qualified nurse who already has problems with a lecherous doctor (Peter Facinelli) and a semi-estranged younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman). She gets the app on her phone and learns she’s doomed to die within days, and convinced this is the real deal because of the death of a patient. Hooking up with similarly app-condemned Matt Monroe (Jordan Calloway), a character named by someone who’s never heard of the singer of ‘From Russia With Love’, Quinn runs about town consulting various folks who might be helpful, which amusingly means consulting a phone hacker (Tom Segura) about getting rid of the unwanted application (the horror movie debut of this all-too-familiar 2010s problem) before going to the fanboy priest (PJ Byrne, from Final Destination 5) who whips up a Devil Rides Out protective circle with rock salt. Held over from the Ring franchise is the concept of a heroine who is on the hook fighting fate with even more urgency because the curse has been extended to an even more innocent dependent.
Tiny bits of backstory about bereavement and guilt fill in between hokey scenes that deliver a variety of scare tricks – the thing is that hokey doesn’t mean they don’t work. There’s a neat variation on the Haunting ‘whose hand was I holding bit’ and an imaginative non sequitur as the camera tracks creepy feet as someone walks through the partitions of toilet stalls and then does a very discomforting double-jointed trick.
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