Almost any horror gimmick can make for a solid film, as long as it’s handled correctly. Hell, the horror genre is pretty much built off great gimmicks, whether its not allowing late admissions to Psycho or a killer video tape in The Ring. But maybe no horror film has had as boring of a gimmick as a group of people accepting a user agreement on a new app without reading it. That’s where Countdown comes in, a tedious retread of The Ring and Final Destination’s ideas that is as stupid as it is mundane.
After being warned of the dangers of a new app that tells the user when they will die right down to the second, nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) downloads it on a whim. Her coworkers boast of the long lives the app predicts, while Harris’ app says she only has three days left to live. With a little bit of research, Harris discovers that it looks like the app’s predictions are right and, the user actually does die, as proven by one of her recently deceased patients. The closer her app counts down to zero, the more she sees harbingers of her upcoming death, making her worry that maybe the app might be right.
While Harris and her fellow downloaders, her sister Jordan (Talitha Eliana Bateman) and potential love interest Matt Monroe (Jordan Calloway) try to find information on how to stop their deaths, the answers only make Countdown increasingly dumber. The user agreement, believe it or not, is only the beginning. They hack into the app to find Latin writing in the code, and discover the app is taking up 60 GB of storage – important information, for some reason. Before people die, they sometimes see an unknown demon creature, sometimes they see dead loved ones, but regardless, it’s nonsense that is never explained. There’s descriptions of old folklore that predict the origins of the app, there’s a theory that proving the devil incorrect in his predictions might stop the app. But really, the most horrific thing about the app itself is the horrible klaxon that sounds whenever the app sends a new notification.
It’s clear that writer/director Justin Dec came up with the pitch for Countdown (“a killer app! Get it??”), then had to work his way backwards into explaining how the hell this would happen. Dec throws out plenty of potential theories and ideas, but all of this doesn’t tie up into anything that makes a lick of sense. It’s an app that kills and maybe keeping it vague would have made this a slightly better idea.
But while Final Destination – a film which Countdown has a clear admiration for – was exciting because of the uncertainty as to when and how characters would die, Countdown gives the exact second when the jump scare will come. Not even the deaths themselves are all that interesting. Sometimes, the dark demon/deceased family members just pick up the victim and drop them really hard out of nowhere.
Instead of focusing on maybe making the horror aspects of this horror film work, Dec spreads his script thin between a bunch of different subplots and minor characters. Dec introduces two different comedic characters that both serve essentially the same function, and some characters seem like they might bring the movie some promise, before their app strikes zero. At least Dec does try to shake up the formula a bit by introducing a sexual assaulting doctor (Peter Facinelli), but like most things in this film, that thread is also half-assed and fizzles out.
Could a film about a murdering app controlled by an unspecified demon creature be good? Sure, why not? But this isn’t it. Countdown is exactly as bad as its premise sounds, a moronic attempt to blend modern day tech worries with hackneyed horror scares.