Countdown is just good enough to make you wish it was better. This is the latest in a series of recent horror flicks, like Unfriended, The Den, and Cam, that are centered around modern technology. In this case, we're talking an evil cell phone app. (Not Candy Crush.) Writer/director Justin Dec has a cool, timely premise but simply doesn't do enough with it.
In the movie, “Countdown” is an app that tells users right down to the second when they're going to die. Young nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) downloads it, only to discover that she has just two days to live. The prospect of checking out early is even scarier than the lecherous doctor (Peter Facinelli) who keeps sexually harassing her. As the clock ticks, Quinn is stalked by shadowy figures. She eventually befriends Matt (Jordan Calloway), a guy who has also downloaded it. Together, they attempt to find a way to bypass the app's very function.
Certain elements of Countdown are pretty good. Lail (TV's Once Upon a Time) is an appealing lead who quickly earns our empathy. Several of the jump scares are decent, too. The movie even keeps a sense of humor about itself. Tom Segura is very funny as a cell phone store employee who comments sarcastically on the horrific things taking place, and P.J. Byrne is equally amusing as Father John, a weirdo priest who helps Quinn and Matt in their efforts to elude death. Perhaps the most shrewd bit of comedy is that none of the characters bother to read the terms and conditions of the app, until it's too late. We've all been there and done that, right?
Those elements give Countdown a certain degree of fun. Where it comes up short is in the terror department. Jump scares are really all it has. The obvious comparison is to Gore Verbinski's 2002 chiller The Ring, in which everyone who watches a cursed videotape – including lead Naomi Watts – dies seven days later. That picture is steeped in dread, so that you're constantly on edge. Nothing here even begins to approach such nerve-rattling extremes. Any movie can startle you with an abrupt loud noise or a demon jumping out. Only the best make you bite your fingernails off while you're watching.
Extra character and plot development would have improved the film, as well. Subplots involving personal losses suffered by Quinn and Matt are half-baked. They could have been expanded upon to make the characters' fear of death more palpable for the audience. Countdown only runs 82 minutes, minus end credits, so room certainly existed to go in-depth. The obligatory “It's not really over!” plot twist, meanwhile, feels utterly tacked on.
With so many better movies out there, it's hard to recommend paying full price to see Countdown. As a Netflix rental or something you can stream for a couple of bucks, though, it's worth a look on a rainy day when you want something light and unassuming. Not great, not terrible.
out of four
Countdown is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, language and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.