Countdown (2019) managed to rise above expectations in spite of my horrible theater experience

Countdown (2019) looked like sheer schlock when the trailer first dropped. For the most part, this PG-13 horror film lives up to that expectation. This is one of those horror films that rely heavily upon its jump-scares and little to the tone or mood of the scenes. In fact, Countdown juggles it’s tone quite a bit from scene-to-scene, and almost feels more like a spoof horror film at times than one true to the genre. However, that may be exactly why I didn’t mind this film, despite being in a crowded auditorium full of rowdy kids that wanted everyone in the room to know what they were thinking at any given moment. 

Countdown ended up being a better movie than the trailer initially offered

A new app goes viral – sort of – called “Countdown”, and the movie opens with young people at a party deciding to all download it to see when they will die, which is what the app claims it does. The first few all have a long time left, but one girl only has a couple of hours. She decides to walk home rather than ride in the car with her drunk boyfriend, but apparently, there was no escaping her time. Said boyfriend introduced Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) to the app, and she has just a few days until her time expires. Quinn frantically looks for a way to extend her time on the plane of existence. 

For the most part, this movie is a small cast of characters that have some odd interactions. Along with Quinn is Jordan her sister, Jordan (Talitha Eliana Bateman), Matt (Jordan Calloway), a guy who is also under the clock and looking for an escape, Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli), her sexually aggressive co-worker, Father John (P.J. Byrne) who they seek for his demonic expertise to explain the app, and Derek (Tom Segura), a snarky cell phone store owner and part-time hacker. Yeah, all of that is in this movie. There is a scene where Quinn is severely sexually assaulted by a doctor at the hospital – which initially there seemed to have been an implied relationship – but it revealed that it is very one-sided. It seemed completely unnecessary, and I was surprised how they were able to tie this C or D storyline into the main plot of the film and it not just be some superfluous filler. 

Later in the film, when basic attempts at removing the app and replacing the device prove futile, they seek spiritual guidance. Quinn reaches out to the priest at the hospital in a scene that feels tonally off from almost every other scene in the movie -but he sends them to Father John. Father John is a hilarious character who totally could have been played by Griffin Newman (wink wink) but is expertly played by Byrne. He’s awaiting his Grubhub order – sitting and eating Eucharist in a room that is a bit smokey – when Quinn and Matt barge in demanding assistance, which he is more than ready to give. An academic in demonology with the opportunity to finally apply all of his nerdy knowledge…I loved these scenes. 

To be honest, I found the film to be written very competently by writer/director Justin Dec. It feels like a student film in that it is very by-the-numbers, and everything cleans up quite neatly – but I like fundamentals. Dec demonstrates an understanding of the genre, though he seems to struggle with tonal consistency a bit. Still, I thought all the plot points, narrative elements, and pacing were spot on and engaging enough. Even the scares and production were strong enough and far better than some of the horror films I’ve subjected myself to over the last few years…let us not overlook how bad Truth or Dare, Slenderman, Winchester, and others have been. This is far better than many of those. 

Final thoughts

I initially thought I’d fill up much of this review ranting about people’s movie viewing etiquette, as it was more of a horror show than the movie in some ways. However, I found the film to be quite enjoyable, and I was actually irritated that the people in the room weren’t willing to just experience it rather than being obnoxious. I partially blame my theater for their behavior as well, as I attend many screenings there – and it never fails that one of them will walk in with their clipboard, walk the aisles, check the exit doors, and then leave at least three or four times in a two-hour movie even when I’m the only person in the theater, which happens quite frequently. Yet, in this packed house that they knew was full of teens, it took them a solid hour to make their presence known, and it did have an immediate change in the room…still, Countdown surprised me and earned A Decent Watch rating. 

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