I love a bad horror film. They’re often quite inventive and nasty, if a little rough around the edges. The scares are often much more effective and well-constructed than in the much more high-profile films. Film that would fall under the pretentious, posh term ‘elevated horror’ often lack the edge and the scares and most certainly the blood. For me, Countdown has everything going for it. A film about a deadly app that tells you the exact moment you’re going to leave this Earth? Right up my alley, ladies and gents.
That being said, I’m sorry to say Countdown is a convoluted mess with a few good moments, but buckets of wasted potential.
Quinn Harris is a nurse who encounters the traumatised teen Evan whose girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances after downloading a seemingly harmless app that pin points the exact moment you will die. Evan also downloaded the app and refuses surgery because the timer for his life runs out while he’s expected to be under the knife. For reasons I can’t quite explain, Quinn also downloads the app only to learn she only has three days to live.
A deadly app for your phone seems like the timeliest subject for a horror film for our times. And I would be lying if I said the premise wasn’t at least intriguing. The increasing sense of paranoia and anxiety are ripe for horror treatment and could be quite effective in the right hands. Unfortunately, Countdown doesn’t make the most out of its modern starting point.
Countdown begins modestly, but effectively. A prologue of sorts details the grisly end of our first, inevitable victim and it’s fun. Fun is exactly what you’re looking for with these films; inventive kills that have increasing quantities of fake blood, predictable but effective jump scares and a good villain. The prologue seems to have all of these and while the film won’t win any awards for originality, it gets the job done. The first few kills are great fun and even a little gruesome, thanks to the perfect marriage of sound and image. The thud of a body falling from a height and a neck cracking can do wonders in a small budget horror.
The biggest mistake Countdown and writer-director Justin Dec make is to assume the viewer for a film like this would care about anything but scares and kills. Horror films can be mighty powerful and emotional at depicting real life issues, but Countdown’s attempts at portraying sexual harassment in the work place feel awkward and misjudged. A doctor at the hospital Quinn works at is a sleazy, terrible human being but the film never manages to take this plot thread seriously or depict it with enough commitment and nuance to really make it matter.
This all would be forgivable if the rest of Countdown was good or at least effective. The scares aren’t there and for such a short film, it seems to take forever before someone dies again after the first half hour. Characters come and go without personalities or anything meaningful to contribute to the plot.
Dec does show some promise. The first couple of kills are suitably nasty and the jump scares, while watered down, are well enough constructed. If Countdown did everything just a little bit harder, a little bit nastier, it would be a much better film, but it currently just seems like a poorly constructed and lazy attempt to make a quick buck at the box office.
Elizabeth Lail, who was delightful in You, is equally watchable here as she was in the first season of the twisty Netflix series. She breathes a little bit of life into Quinn and while the script doesn’t give her much to work with, makes her a likable protagonist that you’re guaranteed to want to root for.
Everyone else in the cast just blend in. None of the actors grab or command your attention or the screen with their presence, ultimately making Countdown thoroughly disappointing. There is much potential here and Countdown has a few genuinely chilling moments, but not enough to make it a memorable horror film. Perhaps this just needed an update to get rid of the bugs.
Dir: Justin Dec
Scr: Justin Dec
Cast: Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Peter Facinelli, Talitha Eliana Bateman
Prd: Sean Anders, John Morris, John Rickard, Zack Schiller
DOP: Maxime Alexandre
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Run time: 90 mins
Countdown is out on Digital 17th of February and on DVD and Blu Ray 2nd of March