Peruse some lists of fan-favourite genre flicks from 2019 and Justin Dec’s Countdown pops up regularly. Not high on the list, but consistently enough to tickle interest. Dec’s debut feature film won’t wow the sort of people who crawled apoplectic from screenings of Us and Midsommar, but it’s got enough insidious charm to please the friday night fright-lovers.
In today’s app-strewn world, there’s something for everyone and everything, including finding out the exact date and time of your death. Only, it isn’t a joke. When a troubled nurse (Elizabeth Lail) downloads the app, life becomes a race against time to uncover its secrets, and survive its malicious curse.
Fans of the Final Destination films will dig the unrelenting and unstoppable nature of impending death. Though the kills aren’t quite as theatrical or expertly executed, there’s a brutal streak in Countdown which can really take you by surprise. Unlike Final Destination which leaves its body-mangling death scenes to accident and circumstance, Countdown toys with what comes after the victims who dodge their “natural” end. It’s a nice twist and makes sure the film doesn’t feel like a FD rip-off: there’s an aggressive poltergeist like monster which enjoys terrorising people til it slam-dunks em into the grave.
One of the film’s biggest issues though is its mishapen sense of humour which makes it look stupid when, generally speaking, Countdown is surprisingly sharp. Whether its Tom Segura’s (admittedly hilarious) grouchy tech guy, or P.J. Byrne’s geeky preacher, Countdown wants to offer more than just chills much to its detriment. Justin Dec, though a bit shaky on consistent horror, has plenty cool ideas in mind. The cyber gothic of hacking the app to find coded Latin is cool as Hell. The savviness in his character’s methods of fighting a demon is much appreciated for a genre fan over-exposed to exorcisms.
The sad fact is that the humorous accoutrements are tone-tanks, pulling the tension and horror out of many a scene. Same for the film’s over-reliance on generic spooks like stretched screamy mouths, CGI-darkened eyes, and jump scares. It’s an ever-mounting disappointment which pulls off fewer and fewer thrills until its rape-revenge climax offers a tangible threat alongside an ever-dafter looking supernatural one.
Overall, Countdown is a short but sweet thrill-ride which jumps into its premise within minutes and carries on a decent pace until its grim conclusions. Issues around the sense of humour are only problematic because they stick out like a sore thumb but that doesn’t stop Dec being someone with a huge amount of potential.
Dir. Justin Dec
Stars. Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Peter Facinelli, P.J. Byrne