Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Countdown

Approximately halfway through STX’s new “killer app” movie Countdown, two of the lead characters rush to the local hospital to talk to the staff chaplain. They each made the mistake of downloading a new app called Countdown which autogenerates a clock counting down to the moment of your death. Sounds like a funny prank or maybe one of those spyware apps designed by hackers to screw up your life, right? No, this time it’s much worse. People are actually dying exactly when the app says they will.

According to the app, our protagonists – Quinn (You’s Elizabeth Lail) and Matt (Riverdale/Black Lightning’s Jordan Calloway) – only have a couple of hours left to live. They’re starting to have visions of undead relatives returning. Doubt the Apple Store can help with that, thus the need for a chaplain.

Like I’m really going to read the terms & conditions. Nobody does.

The reason they pick the specific hospital they do is Quinn, a newly minted nurse, works there. The chaplain is a colleague, kind of even a friend, and Matt is just along for the ride. Before they can leave, however, Quinn is pulled aside by her superior and walked to a backroom meeting with HR. Turns out, Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli) has filed a complaint against her. He says she sexually assaulted him.

Number of days until my latest sexual harassment lawsuit

We know it’s bullshit. She knows it’s bullshit. We already saw the scene earlier where he cornered her in a darkened room and forced himself on her, verbally implying she was not only asking for it but also owed it to him since he wrote that letter of recommendation she asked for. Given her Countdown conundrum, Quinn’s had to compartmentalize, but she was going to get to solving this particular problem eventually. Sleazy Dr. Sullivan beat her to it, leaving her no choice but to loudly deny his claims and openly accuse him of sexual assault before storming out to get back to maybe beating some ancient demon thingy that’s trying to kill her through her phone.

And the award for most surprising #MeToo storyline in a horror movie goes to Countdown.

Except it’s not really that surprising. Hollywood doesn’t make “issue” movies anymore; it makes mass entertainment and the people behind those films are increasingly inclined to trojan horse their social commentary inside genre entertainment. That’s why this year’s Child’s Play nods toward the Asian sweatshops responsible for all our kids toys, Dumbo bites the Disney hand the fed it, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil lays on its Trump commentary pretty thick.

Whether movies, however, truly have the power anymore – if they ever did – to change anyone’s mind is another matter. If the early reaction to the Watchmen pilot is any indication some people are getting sick of movies and TV shows making a big production out of being woke.

Countdown isn’t likely to earn that kind of ire. It’s not an allegorical story about one of the defining movements of our time (unless you want to argue the countdown clock is a metaphor for the inevitability all women feel about being sexually assaulted or propositioned at some point in their life); it’s a Final Destination-esque horror movie about telegenic young people being offed in Rue Goldberg fashion. The lead characters just also happens to be dealing with a sexually aggressive boss.

Considering the younger-skewing popularity of Lail’s You and Calloway’s Riverdale on Netflix as well as the way slasher-like movies tend to skew young anyway, it’s hardly a surprise I was on the older end of all the people at my Countdown screening last night. This is one for the kids, yet I had a fun time with it. Director Justin Dec knows his ways around jump scares.

The irony here is that while attending a movie weaponizing our cell phone addiction against us I spotted not one but two people – one directly to my left, another in the row in front of me – who were openly texting and browsing Instagram throughout the movie. They seemed like everyone’s cliche of a Millennial, too transfixed by their phone to engage with the world.

If they had, they would have seen a horror movie with some good jump scares, surprisingly funny side characters (an overly enthusiastic priest who compares the bible to the best graphic novel ever eventually joins the picture), and a very of-the-moment #MeToo storyline. Spoiler, the final girl has to battle a demon, sure, but she also ends up physically fighting her attacker, yelling, “Times up you rapey motherfucker!”

The commentary is crystal clear, if only you can look up from your phone long enough to hear it. If the commentary doesn’t mean much or work for you, well, there are still some pretty good jump scares.

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

Is Countdown a secret Jexi sequel? No, but they do have one very similar scene
  1. This is the second movie I’ve seen this month where the lead character’s “I know, I’ll just get a new phone” solution to their problem blows up in their face. In Jexi, Adam Devine can’t shake his obsessive/abusive voice assistant just by upgrading his phone since she actually exits in the cloud, not on any single phone; in Countdown, Elizabeth Lail ditches her phone and its un-deletable Countdown app for a basic burner replacement and it, of course, automatically downloads the Countdown app because demons are up on their IT these days. In neither case do the characters ever bother to get a new case for their new phone. That’s the part I found least believable.
  2. As a semi-proud Nissan Versa owner, I can honestly say this is the first movie I’ve seen where the lead character actually drives a Versa. Considering how often the car is featured throughout – it’s front and center for every establishing shot of her apartment complex, and she even sleeps in it at one point – I suspect some sort of product placement deal. Still, seeing my car up on screen did give me a good case of “So, this is what Toyota Prius drivers get to feel like.”

Where to See

In theaters.

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: John Carpenter finds himself trapped between claustrophobic horror and Lovecraftian mindfuckery.

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