Killer App

You’re Better Off Not Downloading ‘Countdown’

I am filing this review from a Half Price Books right after seeing this movie. I have 45 minutes left on my laptop battery and it doesn’t look like there are any electrical outlets around here, so we’ll see how much I can write before my countdown expires.

Technological horror has been around ever since humanity has invented new ways to do pretty much anything. We have horror movies about mysterious phone calls, the Internet, science itself,. With the continuation of Black Mirror, we have no end of content about our relationship with the technology that’s supposed to bring us together but often rips us apart.


COUNTDOWN ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Justin Dec
Written by: Justin Dec
Starring: Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Peter Facinelli, Tom Segura, P.J. Byrne
Running time: 90 min


 

This brings us to Countdown, the third movie about the dangers of smartphones that studios have released this year alone, behind Wounds and Jexi. The simple premise: Our phones are bad and are slowly killing us! Or, the long version: If you download the Countdown app to your phone, you learn when you will die, right down to the second. Some people who download it will live well into their 90s, while others have only minutes left to live. If you try to cheat death, as the movie’s cold open illustrates, death will come for you anwyay. There’s no stopping it. Or is there?

That’s what nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) must find out during the course of the movie’s 90 minutes, after a patient tells her about the Countdown app and then promptly dies in a freak accident before going into surgery. I kept waiting for someone to make a “Nurse Quinn, Medicine Woman” joke, but to no avail. Wasted opportunity.

Anyhoo, Quinn is still dealing with the tragic death of her mother, which makes her curious about the app. When she downloads it, she learns she only has two days and some change left to live. So does her sister Jordan (Talitha Eliana Bateman), who also downloaded the app. They then band together with Matt (Jordan Calloway), another person who has just days to live, and they try to delete the app from existence for good. Many predictable jump scares follow.

If all of this “cheat death” stuff sounds familiar, allow me to guide you to that thought’s Final Destination: yes, Countdown is a chain email plot ripoff of countless horror films about death that have come before. There’s even a little bit of the Happy Death Day franchise’s DNA here. But while those films were interested in saying something about the finality and inevitability of accepting your death, Countdown is content to make some toothless commentary about how phones are destroying our connections with one another.

The set pieces pale in comparison to the Rube Goldberg death traps of Final Destination or the anarchic glee of Happy Death Day’s multiple death scenes. The logic of the app makes no sense. Will there be a sequel, probably called Countdown 2.0? Bet on it. Lail is doing what she can with the material, but even she can’t elevate a heavy-handed subplot about the #TimesUp movement (hehe, get it?).

Nothing in this movie is memorable, except for some bit parts from P.J. Byrne and Tom Segura as a demon-hunting priest and a tech wizard, respectively, who lean into how fun this movie should be. For what it is, parts of it are truly funny, if you’re looking for camp. And this does get points for one of the better usages of the one f-bomb a PG-13 is allowed to have.

This could have made for a great viral Netflix movie, like Bird Box. If you go in expecting a Final Destination ripoff about phones, you’ll have a good time. But when Countdown hits zero, many will wish their clocks could reset to before this predictable film started.

Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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