Remember when “There’s an app for that,” was a phrase uttered by both ads and any smartphone user around you, back when such things were new and exciting? With ubiquity, we’ve stopped marvelling at what phone apps can do and now treat them with less mind than picking up a hammer, calculator, or set of scales.
The time for reading the terms and conditions like a hawk has passed (because you DID do that, didn’t you?), but when it comes to an app that sets off a ticking clock to your death, perhaps that fine print deserves some more attention.
There is something refreshingly simple about a horror film that makes ‘you are definitely going to die’ into its central premise, simply adding a digitally descending clock to hammer in the stakes quickly and effectively.
After a proof of concept opener – where we learn that those who download a death countdown app do indeed die in mysterious and violent circumstances when the clock hits zero – we meet the cast fate will taunt for the next 90 minutes.
Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail, You) is a trainee nurse, hiding from a father and little sister who remind her too much of the pain of her recently deceased mother.
After learning of the Countdown app, and her colleagues all coming out with decades of more life to live, she is shocked to be faced with only two days to go until that long arm of Death reaches to snuff out her life.
Faced with being on the wrong end of sexual harassment he said/she said against the handsy Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli), and plagued with visions that seem to delight in terrifying her, Quinn teams up with equally doomed Matt (Jordan Calloway) to try and break their appointment with the Grim Reaper.
Countdown, like a malicious episode of 24, makes sure that the respective character’s clocks are never far from their mind. It runs down their time with standard but effective horror movie scares: the door that moves by itself, motion-sensitive lights tripping, figures in the mirror, rotten grabbing hands snatching at ankles.
Our identifiable nasty gets a name and purpose as the movie progresses, which adds to a quantifiable threat in much the same way as the Final Destination franchise pins all of its slaughter on an irate Death who is peeved at his order getting all muddled up.
Is Countdown Worth Watching?
Anybody who’s seen a scary movie will know the playbook, but director Justin Dec delivers with all due timing and weight. The movie is buoyed by an individualism in that each character must face their own personal backstory opening fears.
To its further credit, Countdown masters the trick of sprinkling in not one, but two comic side characters, neither of which outstay their welcome. The enthusiasm of enlisted ally Father John for demon hunting is an infectious delight.
Will you watch Countdown again once the credits roll? Highly unlikely. The simplicity of its premise makes for an easily digestible meal with no uncomfortable crunchy bits to stand out in the memory.
Lail’s mixture of innocence and determination will be recognisable to You fans as very ‘Beck’ but she doesn’t get much chance for abject terror. Similarly, the set-up for a potential sequel does the usual horror movie thing of dumbly undermining the good work of a well-written ending.
Set your timer going and enjoy your predetermined trip through some ‘what’s that in your bed’ scares. The alarm going off won’t surprise you, but feel free to enjoy the tick-tock on the way.
Words by Mike Record