Look, I’ll be the first to admit that while I generally go into every movie with a positive attitude, there is the cynical old fuddy-duddy inside of me that will still be dismissive towards certain films, sight unseen. It’s one of my many shortcomings, I know, and one that I’ve been actively working on the last few years, but I still can’t help but to succumb to the snark that sometimes resides inside of my head.
That being said, I was prepared for Countdown to be your prototypical 2010s teen-centric supernatural flick where I’d be rooting against the film’s protagonists. But instead, writer/director Justin Dec delivers up a clever dose of death-defying fun in Countdown that feels like an updated spin on Final Destination, all while still doing its own thing with its rules and mythology, and gives us characters worth investing in as well.
The setup is pretty simple: a group of teens at a party discover an app called “Countdown” which is supposed to determine just how long you’re going to live for. One of them is told they have mere hours left and panics, believing that death is going to be knocking on their proverbial door at any minute. As you may have guessed, the Countdown app proves to be eerily prescient, and when a well-meaning nurse named Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) checks out the app for herself at the behest of one of her patients (who just so happened to be at the party that opens the movie), Quinn’s unnerved when she’s told she only has a few days left to live. Racing against the clock (quite literally in this case), it’s up to Quinn to figure out just what exactly is going on with this mysterious app, and if there’s any way she can stop it in time, before it’s too late and her clock officially winds down forever.
As mentioned earlier, there are definitely some Final Destination vibes to Countdown (and I’m sure I won’t be the only reviewer out there to touch on this, either), with Death looming around every corner. But Dec smartly takes his story in a different direction here in terms of how everything unfolds and the driving force behind it, and I really appreciated how well he melded together old-world mythologies and current tech fads. It’s certainly not an easy feat by any means, but Countdown navigates those waters well, and when the film is focused on building the tension and dread that comes along with essentially punching your ticket for the last time, Dec’s feature film debut is a demon-fueled delight.
It’s the moments when Countdown loses focus where the movie slips a bit, particularly in regards to a subplot involving Quinn and a skeezy doctor (Peter Facinelli) who harasses her. While I applaud Dec’s script for incorporating a real-life issue here that is sadly far too prevalent these days, it just feels a bit out of place, and it’s played out a bit heavy-handedly, too, where you can pretty much know how the entire situation is going to play out very early on in the movie. My other issue is that Countdown’s opener falls a bit flat until we start getting to the “good stuff” (you know, when someone’s about to bite it), as those performances in the opening scene felt a bit stilted, especially in comparison to everything that follows. These are minor quibbles, though, as everything else was a total blast.
Beyond the fact that it’s a nifty mash-up of new and old, Countdown also works as well as it does because of some really excellent performances. Lail carries the movie assuredly as Quinn, a relatable protagonist that does make some bad decisions, but nothing we all probably wouldn’t have done ourselves (there’s a scene involving Quinn getting freaked out in her apartment where she subsequently ends up falling asleep in her car, and in that moment, I felt “seen,” as the kids say, because it’s something I totally would have done, too).
Joining Lail on her pursuit of the truth behind the titular app are her younger sister, Jordan (Annabelle: Creation’s Talitha Bateman), potential love interest and fellow Countdown victim Matt (Jordan Calloway), a wacky priest named Father John (P.J. Byrne) who digs on all things demonic, and Derek (Tom Segura), a hilarious cell phone hacker who thinks he’s got Death’s number, so to speak. Across the board, they’re all great here, with Dec giving them an opportunity to portray real, fully realized characters that feel like they actually matter.
All in all, Countdown is a horrific hoot that may not do much for genre fans looking for a bit of a hardened edge to their entertainment. But for those just looking to go on a horror-filled ride for 90 minutes in the theater, Countdown is pretty damn fun and does an excellent job of tapping into technology driven terrors for the modern age that completely surprised me and left me thoroughly entertained to boot.
Movie Score: 3.5/5