In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. Previously, we tackled Helen Hunt’s twisty/turny festival entry, I See You. This time, we’re downloading apps irresponsibly without reading the Terms of Condition with 2019’s Countdown.
Synopsis: “When a nurse downloads an app that claims to predict the moment a person will die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With the clock ticking and a figure haunting her, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out.”
I didn’t love Countdown. As much as I enjoy actress Elizabeth Lail, who played Quinn Harris, I found the film to be middling at best and an irritant at worst. An app-based revamp of the Final Destination franchise, Countdown’s biggest horror lies in the tyranny of Terms of Service (which, of course, no one EVER reads).
I did enjoy the priest-bro character played by P.J. Byrne — who could possibly resist a man so exuberantly passionate about demonology and hip to the conveniences of GrubHub? Answer: not me. Byrne’s scenes were the only ones that caused me to perk up my ears and lean forward in my chair (apart from those featuring Tom Segura’s Derek, the smug tech guy). Peter Facinelli was more lifeless than when he played an actual undead vampire, and I hated the way that the sexual harassment storyline played out. It felt cheap and unearned, more a way to capitalize on current sociopolitical trends than an actual effort to genuinely explore the ramifications of these situations.
There are a few other really silly things at script-level that I disliked, including the idea that nursing students would be unfamiliar with the purpose of naloxone (or Narcan), an opioid antagonist used to treat overdoses. And how many times did we have to be reminded via dialogue that Quinn’s mother is dead? Oh, can we talk about how there is a scene in which Quinn is the only person taking advantage of street parking in front of an apartment building? Or the fact that purchasing and setting up a brand new phone with a brand new number apparently takes only 4.7 seconds and zero questions from the clerk? Or how the timer at the end was wildly inaccurate? (Yes, I counted down while watching.)
I will say this for Countdown, though — as an iPhone user, I found the scene where Quinn googles tech support tips to be very relatable content. My biggest takeaway from this experience is that I can’t believe that you turned down my suggestions of Parasite or Underwater to talk about this film, instead! Why do you want to punish the two of us so harshly? Did you find any of the scares effective? And, how did you feel about the #MeToo storyline and its (tenuous) relation to the app plot?
Oh dear, Countdown is a bit of a mess, isn’t it? I didn’t mind it as much as you, in part because I do find Lail quite likeable (because – or is it in spite of? – her character Beck on S1 of YOU), but also because I went in expecting a truly terrible film and came out mildly amused.
Let’s be clear: Countdown is a bad film. It has an atrocious script littered with plot holes so big characters seem to fall into them, and the premise is an inherent rip-off of better films (I see your Final Destination and raise you The Ring). And yet the damn film is so earnest and stupid that I can’t bring myself to hate it! It’s the little horror film that tried and while I found literally nothing in it scary, I still kinda grinned through the ok parts, with only some mild scowling during the particularly stoooopid parts.
The #MeToo stuff is the most egregious, if only because it feels so fucking unnecessary. This plot line appears early in the film and then briefly reappears in the end when Quinn needs someone to die pre-emptively. But are we honestly meant to believe that she’s ready to kill the man who sexually harassed her? She’s in a tight bind, but she’s not a killer!
As much as this development annoyed me, I was still more frustrated with the way the work hearing earlier in the film goes, when her work friend Nurse Amy (Tichina Arnold) admonishes her for not speaking up about Dr. Sullivan (Facinelli)’s behaviour before Quinn is unceremoniously dismissed. The scene borders on comedy because it’s so ridiculous, but (problematically), it seriously undermines the reality that there is victim shaming and specifically gendered responses when it comes to sexual assault and rape. That this dumb movie dares to tackle such an important topic in such an irresponsible and lackadaisical way borders on offensive.
One of the elements that I did enjoy is how it subverts the expectations about romantic love during deadly situations. While I don’t love the fact that this is another horror film that kills off a black character, Jordan Calloway’s very cute Matt, I did like that the film casts aside a romantic ending in favour of focusing on Quinn and her younger sibling, Jordan (Talitha Bateman).
V, maybe this is a good time to kick back to you. How did you feel about the film’s use of Matt and Jordan? And should we talk about the gnarly kills, which tend to focus on people landing very awkwardly on their necks?
#JusticeForMatt! I wish that we could have had a version of this film with the same cast (minus maybe Facinelli), a better script, a less washed-out palette, demon design that was a little more inventive, and some actual character development. Because you’re right that the film does have some good points, including the focus on sisterhood over romantic entanglements. And I do really like the idea of evil apps — I actually think the premise of Countdown is really fun and has promise, even if this instalment doesn’t quite live up to it. The ending does leave things open for a potential (inevitable?) sequel, so maybe we’ll see an upgrade a la Mike Flanagan’s improvement to the Ouija series.
I couldn’t tell you a single kill that happened in this film, apart from the one in the cold open. They just weren’t that memorable for me. I remember the brief moments of comedy more clearly and kind of wish the film had leaned into that a little bit more. I think this could have been really fun as a campy horror-comedy. As it is, the tone shifts pretty jarringly at various points.
Overall, I think I have to give Countdown a 3.5 out of 10. Maybe a 4 if there are any deleted scenes featuring more P.J. Byrne.
What did you think about the tone, Joe? Did you manage to make it to the mid-credits Tinder date scene? And will your score be more generous than mine?
Awww, I’m sad that you disliked it that much. Clearly I need to be more careful with my picks; you must hate me for making you watch so much drivel!
As for the credits sequence…oof! Derek on his Tindr date was not what I wanted to end this film on. Even if Countdown thinks that threatening its most aggressively annoying character is suitable pay-off for all of his earlier scenes, that character is a chore that I was happy to leave behind.
I actually kind of liked the creature design. To clarify: I don’t like the meh make-up job when it appears as someone the victim knows (see above, when it jump scares Quinn by taking her dead mom’s form). No, I like its traditional form, which looks a bit like the Grim Reaper, complete with floor length cloak.
I’m a sucker for a cloak.
I was particularly fond of the scene when Quinn keeps checking her rearview mirror and sees the creature moving steadily closer. It’s the most obvious horror movie trick in the book aside from opening and closing the bathroom mirror for a jump scare, but I appreciated how it resulted in her smashing her car into the asshole guy behind her and set-up her meet cute with Matt.
Ditto the sequence when Bryne’s bro-priest sets up the circle of salt in the basement. It’s immediately obvious that Matt will be lured out, but I still liked the way the demon set up its ruse and how both Quinn wound up getting smacked around into the cabinets as a result. This played better than Matt’s initial hospital creature where the image of his younger brother walks through stalls and then jumped on his chest…
I’ll confess the tonal changes were too aggressive for me. The scares aren’t scary enough to cover up for the shrug-worthy jokes (I get the impression Countdown thinks it’s evoking Happy Death Day and, let me tell you, it’s wrong!).
Now, if there were a sequel, perhaps focusing on Bryne this time, I could get behind that. As it stands, however, this is a middling 2019 horror entry that isn’t as bad critics made it out to be, but it’s exceedingly forgettable. Aspiring screenwriters take note: coming up with a decent premise like “killer app” can’t be where the creative process ends!
My score: 6/10.
Countdown is now available on Blu and VOD