Directed by Justin Dec. Starring Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Peter Facinelli.
The Plot: There’s a new mobile app craze called Countdown, which tells you how much time you have to live. Some people have decades left to live. Some only have days or hours to live, such as nurse Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) and her younger sister Jordan (Talitha Eliana Bateman). Thinking it’s just a hoax, Quinn soon discovers that people have a habit of dying in horrible ways after installing the app – the ones with limited time left. Jordan tries to turn off her phone or delete the app, but it keeps coming back. With time running out, she’ll have to find a way to beat the clock or face her untimely death…
The Verdict: Sadly not a feature-length documentary on the long-running Channel 4 gameshow, Countdown is a horror film focused more on time than wordplay – but with none of the brains of its namesake. If you were to stick Final Destination, J-Horrors like Ring and The Grudge and the worst excesses of modern horror into a blender then one would find Countdown as the sludgy mess left behind. Final Destination is clearly a reference point for this film, as it’s about finding a way to cheat death. Observant horror fans will note that the DVD of that superior and inventive horror had a random death clock as a bonus feature. Countdown plays out like that bonus feature expanded out from its postage stamp concept. The problem here though is that the delivery and execution is so low concept that it struggles to justify anyone’s time, especially that of a paying audience.
First-time feature director Justin Dec sets out his stall early on with a dull opening sequence that plays out like the iconic, post-ironic Scream never happened. Audiences, especially horror fans, are far smarter than that and expect more from a film basically about a haunted app. His script leaves a lot to be desired too. There have been haunted videotapes and mobile phones in horror cinema, but a haunted app is just lame. The characters struggle to get rid of the clock-ticking app or buy a new phone at one point. Why not just live without a phone for a few days or find a way to insulate yourself from danger, like in a jail cell? The plot is as shaky as the piggy defences in the Angry Birds app, resorting to yet another dark-shaped boogeyman to get its kicks. The jump scares here are signposted in advance, to nullify any attempt at being actually scary.
The tone is also wildly all over the place. In an attempt at introducing humour to the predictable proceedings, Dec inserts quirky supporting characters like a rap-loving priest and a smarmy tech guy to help Quinn out. Both of them appear to have wandered in from a different film and seem out of place in a film that strives for darkness at times. An awkward #MeToo-forgetting sub-plot involving a lecherous work colleague is poorly handled. It’s shoehorned in and exists solely to find another bad guy to pin the tail on. Peter Facinelli, a decent actor, deserved a lot better here. The tagline for the film goes ‘Death? There’s an app for that’. A more appropriate tagline should be ‘A good horror film? If only there was an app for that’. Countdown does have OK-ish moments, but they’re very few and far between. To round off the film’s mediocrity, Dec adds in two endings which are more laughable than laugh-worthy. This is barely watchable nonsense that is not worth installing and exists only as a time killer.