With the advent of cellular devices, it’s become a trend for Hollywood to pump out the occasional flick about a demon-possessed piece of hardware: haunted cell phones, haunted laptops, haunted refrigerators, etc.
Countdown is a horror movie about a haunted app which offs anyone curious enough to know their death date. It could be decades, years, or even moments before mysterious hooded figures appear to claim the life of another victim. While the concept behind Justin Dec’s film seems appealing on the surface, Countdown proves that supernatural horror doesn’t always work in today’s app-friendly world.
Countdown follows nurse Quinn Harris, played by Elizabeth Lail, who enters her information into her cell phone and learns she has a few days left to live. Hooded figures begin appearing to dispose of their victims, and soon Quinn realizes her fatal error in checking out this app. After her little sister, Jordan (played by Talitha Bateman), becomes affected by the app as well, Quinn must race against time to save herself, her sister, and her friends before the demons arrive to claim them as well.
Countdown is plagued by a number of issues, from the characters to the overall concept. Elizabeth Lail carries much of the weight as Quinn Harris, and she is joined by Jordan Calloway as Matt Monroe, along with Talitha Bateman, who give decent performances as well. However, the remainder of the cast comes off as a slapped-together ensemble of either one-dimensional or stereotypical throw-away characters.
The audience meets a snarky cell phone salesman who’s blissfully unaware of a curse that is killing his customers, a crazy-haired conspiracy theorist who makes one appearance before disappearing altogether, and a quirky preacher who serves as the exorcist of sorts before vanishing from the film with no mention of his fate. Whether the result of poor editing or creative laziness, the final product leaves audiences with a cast no one really cares about. Death scenes have their share of gore and mangled bodies, but with no emotional investment in the characters, said scenes lose their impact.
As for the horror elements of the film, the creators drew on a number of tropes that hit their shelf lives long ago. Countdown is replete with jump scares and loud noises that become annoying after the first ten minutes. The audience can only endure the same trope (a character opening a closed curtain, seeing nothing, and then turning around to be ambushed by an unseen force) so many times before boredom sets in. Suspenseful moments become predictable and soon nobody is jumping at what is clearly meant to be a scary moment.
Probably the worst thing about Countdown is the script. The film has the overall feel of a horror movie, but sometimes it introduces one or two subplots that hinder the flow. The primary subplot, in this case, involves Quinn getting sexually harassed by her boss, Dr. Sullivan (played by Peter Facinelli). Later on, Dr. Sullivan proceeds to pin the blame on her to save his career and ultimately creates another problem for Quinn. This would be fine in a movie about sexual harassment, but when introduced halfway through a film about hooded figures and haunted apps, it doesn’t have the right punch.
With bad horror movies, it’s tempting for an audience member – like myself – to imagine how a lousy plot might work better. Maybe it would have been best if the hooded figures didn’t appear at all. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if the victims had been killed in freak accidents with no signs whatsoever of a malicious force at work. However, the attempt to merge the supernatural with modern technology renders all efforts fruitless. There is a brief attempt to explain the phenomena and how it dates back to ancient times, but it seems the creators couldn’t come up with anything better than an ancient Latin curse which somehow affects today’s apps. Said curses might work with people and houses, but it just doesn’t cut it with a cell phone.
Had a little more thought gone into it, Countdown might have been okay. It would not have been remarkable, but it might have made a decent popcorn horror flick. Unfortunately, the final product is bad enough to make it easily forgettable. The lead actors will likely survive in their careers, but Countdown itself will fade away as an unoriginal horror flick of the 2010s.
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A poor concept and equally poor script hinders any and all redemption for Countdown. The lead actors give decent performances, but this isn’t enough to save the film from a litany of dull scare scenes and uninteresting characters.
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