COUNTDOWN is the feature film debut of writer/director Justin Dec, which centers around an app that accurately predicts the moment a person will die. The film stars Elizabeth Lail (You), Jordan Calloway (Riverdale), Talitha Bateman (Annabelle: Creation), Tichina Arnold (Little Shop of Horrors), P.J. Byrne (Big Little Lies), and Peter Facinelli (The Twilight series).
To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “In COUNTDOWN, when a young nurse (Elizabeth Lail) downloads an app that claims to predict exactly when a person is going to die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With time ticking away and death closing in, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out.”
Horror is an interesting genre in that there are so many things that can terrify or elicit fear depending on the person. For me, I don’t like dolls or clowns, you know, normal things that a lot of people find unsettling. However, I’ll admit that folk tales and superstitions also make me uneasy, and in the case of COUNTDOWN, Justin Dec was able to tap directly into that fear I have. Though the movie utilizes typical horror tropes and is directed towards a slightly more younger teen audience, I still found enough scares and starling imagery to turn this film into one of the surprise hits of the Halloween season.
The film opens with an introduction to the Countdown app during a teen party. After tragedy inevitably strikes, we meet Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), an ambitious, young nurse who decides to download the app after hearing her co-workers talking about it. After a freak accident takes place at the hospital she works at, Quinn begins to suspect that there might be some truth to the Countdown app. She begins to panic when the app notifies her that she only has a little over three days left before her time runs out. Hoping to just brush it off, she begins to experience terrifying hallucinations seemingly triggered by the app. Running out of options, she decides to get a new phone in hopes that the app will disappear. While at the cell phone store, she meets Matt Monroe (Jordan Calloway) where they join forces in hopes of finding a way to stop both of their countdowns. With no success in altering the app, they both decide to meet with a priest (P.J. Byrne) to see if there is a way to outsmart the countdown and reverse what they believe to be a curse. With the help of the demon-obsessed priest, as well as Quinn’s sister, Jordan, who also downloaded the app, they race against the clock to beat the curse in hopes of surviving their own death.
The best way I can describe COUNTDOWN is to think of it as a modernized, albeit less gory, version of Final Destination that incorporates a demon. The concept is very similar in that our main characters are trying to escape death, similar to the characters in the Final Destination franchise. What I liked so much about this film was it reminded me of the teen horror films of my youth, such as the previously mentioned one, as well as the fact that this one is just a whole lot of fun. That said, I will wholeheartedly admit that there were numerous moments during the movie that I jumped out of my seat because of the tension and foreshadowing of what was to come. I’m someone who would never want to know how long I have to live and fully believe that, in this scenario, ignorance is bliss. As I’ve mentioned a few times, this film deals with a demon and one of the reasons I enjoyed that was because it actually gave this demon, named Ozhin (Dirk Rogers), a backstory which tied into present day. Furthermore, the design of Ozhin was top-notch, relying on the talented folks over at the make-up effects company KNB EFX group, which is co-founded by The Walking Dead‘s Greg Nicotero. Because the demon’s design didn’t rely solely on CG, but a combination of mostly physical effects with flourishes of CG, it allowed the demon to have an unsettling sense of realism.
I would say the biggest surprise of the film, though, was the acting. Those who are familiar with the thrilling series You will be happy to see Elizabeth Lail running from the supernatural instead of a crazy stalker. Her performance feels genuine as she takes on the role of a caring nurse dealing with her own demons in her past. Furthermore, the actions she takes in her hopes of survival always felt in line with her character, never feeling like they were otherworldly. Fans of Annabelle: Creation will recognize Talitha Bateman who plays Jordan, Quinn’s rebellious younger sister. She does a great job of riding that fine line of wanting her independence but knowing that there are times she’s going to need her sister, even though they are slightly estranged. I didn’t know much about Jordan Calloway prior to this film but I absolutely adored him as Matt. As sappy as this sounds, I really loved the relationship that formed between him and Quinn due to the horrifying circumstances they found themselves in. We also have Tom Segura, who plays Derek, the cell phone store clerk, and P.J. Byrne as Father John, who provided the audience with a steady stream of comic relief. To be honest, I actually haven’t laughed that hard in awhile, especially during a horror film. Lastly, we have Peter Facinelli as Dr. Sullivan, Quinn’s superior at her job. I don’t want to give too much away but believe me when I say I wanted to punch him square in the throat on multiple occasions. I’m used to seeing Facinelli in nice guy roles so even though I wanted to kick his character until he cried, I enjoyed seeing such a different performance from him.
Overall, I’m so glad that I gave COUNTDOWN the chance it deserved. It may not be re-inventing the wheel in regards to originality, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun and thrilling viewing experience. Sometimes it’s just nice to experience a horror movie filled with all the ridiculous jump-scares we’ve come to love as well as humorous dialogue that will take you away from the real horrors of the world. With Halloween just around the corner, I think those looking for a scary movie to see with a group of friends will be in for a real treat with COUNTDOWN.
COUNTDOWN arrives in theaters October 25, 2019 and is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, language and thematic elements. For more on COUNTDOWN, check out our article here from our time on set!