Monday, November 11, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Countdown (2019)

Countdown, not to be confused with Countdown (2017)Countdown (2016)Countdown (2012)Countdown (2011), Countdown (2008), Countdown (2004), Countdown (1998), Countdown (1996), Countdown (1990) and Countdown (1967), was written and directed by Justin Dec. 

Dec previously wrote and directed a series of video shorts. Countdown appears to be his first theatrical work.

Where the hell did this movie come from? Usually I see trailers for upcoming films every week for months before they're released. I didn't see a single one for Countdown, as the film just sort of appeared fully formed out of nowhere. Not a hint of a trailer or advance poster to be seen anywhere. I assume they must not have had any money for marketing.

Take the basic concept of the Final Destination franchise, strip it of all the convoluted and gory deaths, throw in a technological element, then execute the whole thing very poorly and you'll end up with this film. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but I definitely wouldn't call it good. If I had to describe it in a word, I'd say it's "watchable."

Countdown actually features some genuinely interesting concepts. For example, it points out how smart phones and apps have taken over every aspect of our lives, as well as how some people literally live for notifications and "likes." And the idea of a user agreement serving as a literal deal with the devil is pretty darned clever.


Too bad none of these concepts are ever explored to any extent. All the ideas in the film are vague and barely touched upon, as the movie races from one dull setpiece to the next.

The components are all just sitting there, but the director didn't have the skill or interest to assemble them into a compelling whole.

So far the movie's grossed a surprisingly strong $27 million worldwide against its minute $6.5 million budget. That's a pretty good return on the studio's investment, so you know what that means! Look for Countdown: Update in a year or two!

SPOILERS!


The Plot:
We open at a party, where a group of teens are discussing the most important thing in the world to them
 their phones. One of them mentions Countdown, a new app that supposedly tells you how many days you have left until you die. 

The others quickly download the app, and are pleased to see they still have decades in which to live. One of the teens, Courtney, refuses to download the app as she thinks it's ghoulish and morbid. Her friends eventually peer-pressure her into downloading it. When she opens the app, she's unnerved to see she has just three hours to live. Sucks to be her!

Courtney leaves the party with her boyfriend Evan. When she sees he's drunk, she suggests they walk to her house (I guess it never occurs to her that SHE could simply drive his car). Evan refuses to walk, insisting that he's OK to drive. Courtney refuses to ride with him, and Evan roars off in a huff. As she walks home, Courtney receives a notification on her phone that she's somehow violated the Countdown user agreement. She begins seeing terrifying figures in the dark, and runs to her home in a panic.

Once inside, the Countdown timer reaches zero. Suddenly she's attacked by a demonic entity, which picks her up and hurls her to the floor. At the same instant, Evan drunkenly crashes his car into a tree, and a branch goes through the seat where Courtney would have been sitting. So... either way she would have died, right?

We're then introduced to our main character Quinn Harris, a young nursing resident at a local hospital. Her boss, Dr. Sullivan (no first names, please) is a sleazy jerk who's always sexually harassing her. Unfortunately Quinn's afraid to speak out against him, as she's afraid she'll lose her new position.

Quinn finds a worried Evan vaping (I think?) in a restricted area of the hospital that's under construction. He's going in for some sort of vague but routine surgery after his accident, and is worried he's going to die. Quinn tells him there's no cause for alarm, but he shows her the Countdown app on his phone, which indicates he only has a few more hours to live. She's initially dismissive of his claims until he tells her about Courtney's death.

Quinn mentions the app to her co-workers, including Dr. Sullivan. They all download it and find they'll live to ripe old ages. Against her better judgement, she downloads it as well, and is horrified to see it tells her she only has three days to live.

Just then a junkie drags his unconscious girlfriend into the ward (rather than to the E.R.) and tells them she O.D.ed. Quinn quickly injects the woman with Narcan, which miraculously revives her. As you can probably tell, this seemingly superfluous scene is pure setup for the third act.

Meanwhile, Evan sneaks out of his room to avoid his surgery (I think?). Suddenly his phone dweedles, saying he's also violated the Countdown user agreement. He's attacked by a ghastly demonic version of Courtney, who throws him down a stairwell to his death.

Quinn visits her father's house to pick up her birth certificate for work. While there she encounters her younger sister Jordan, who's been resentful of Quinn since their mother died. Her father Charlie invites her to pay a visit to her mother's grave on Saturday. Quinn reluctantly accepts. 


The next day at work, Quinn's shocked to hear of Evan's death. She checks the Countdown app, which now says she has two days left to live. She calls Charlie and cancels the cemetery outing. Right on cue, she gets a message saying she's violated the Countdown user agreement. Dr. Sullivan makes another hard pass at her, and she barely manages to escape him. She tries to tell her superior Nurse Amy about the attack, but she's too busy to listen.

That night in her apartment, Quinn researches the Countdown app. Just as she comes to the conclusion it's fake, she sees a demonic Evan lunge at her. She then spends the night in her car outside her building. The next day she's awakened by Jordan, who ridicules her when she finds out Quinn's taking the app seriously.

A frazzled Quinn then buys a brand new phone from a salesman named Derek. She activates the phone, but is horrified to see the Countdown app has somehow already installed itself. She's then approached by Matt, who was also in the store to buy a new phone. He shows her his Countdown, which says he's scheduled to die a couple hours before her. What a coincidence.

Quinn's convinced something supernatural is happening, and returns to the hospital to consult with the staff priest. While there, she's blindsided by Nurse Amy, who leads her into an HR meeting. There she's informed that Dr. Sullivan has accused her of sexual harassment, and she's being formally suspended. Meanwhile, Matt visits the restroom, where he sees a demonic version of his little brother who died years ago.

Quinn & Matt both recall the user agreement notification, and how they both received it after changing their plans. Quinn theorizes that if you prevent your death, you trigger a demon who... kills you anyway. That doesn't make the least bit of sense, but this is the plot, guys. They hope maybe there's some loophole in the user agreement they can use to their advantage.

They return to Derek, and Quinn pays him to hack into the Countdown app on her phone. He discovers Latin phrases hidden within the code, which also doesn't make any sense but let's just move on. He finds Quinn and Matt's names within the code, and manages to fudge their numbers so they both have decades left to live. 


Quinn somehow spots Jordan's name within the code (good eye!) and realizes she must have downloaded the app as well. She's doomed to die right before Quinn (what is it with this family and the dying?) so Derek ups her numbers too. Quinn & Matt are quite pleased with themselves, thinking they've bested the app and the movie's over. Alas, we're not that lucky.

Meanwhile, Jordan's at home and sees a vision of her late mother, which of course turns into a demon. She flees to Quinn's apartment, and the three of them pay a visit to Father John— a local priest who's into demonology. He says the Countdown app is similar to a Gypsy curse, and theorizes that it can be broken if any one of them lives even one second past their scheduled death.

To that end, Father John has them form a large pentagram symbol out of salt and stand in the center of it. As Matt's timer runs down, the Demon appears and tries to break through the circle, but can't. Father John's amazed that his half-baked idea is working. Unfortunately Matt sees his little brother again, and he lures him out of the circle. Quinn follows after Matt, and Jordan runs after her. Did none of these idiots understand the rules here?

Matt runs outside and is hit by a passing car and killed. Jordan's injured by the Demon, and Quinn rushes her to the hospital. While there, one of the other nurses approaches Quinn, and feels this is the absolute best time to admit that Sullivan harassed her as well. She says if Quinn decides to press charges against him, she'll back her up.

Quinn then devises a plan, hoping to break the curse by killing someone before they're destined to die. She then starts coming on to Dr. Sullivan, and lures him into the unfinished wing where she tries to kill him. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Quinn beats Sullivan with a tire iron (not sure where she found that), but he manages to escape. The Demon then targets Jordan, who's timer has just about run out. Right as it's about to kill her, Quinn appears and goes all "Get Away From Her, You Bitch!" She then injects herself with an overdose of morphine and dies— ahead of schedule. This breaks the curse, and for some reason the Demon freezes and then dissolves into dust.

Jordan crawls over to Quinn and sobs over her lifeless body. She then notices the word "Narcan" written on Quinn's arm, next to an X. She feels around in Quinn's pocket and finds a syringe and a vial of the drug. Putting two & two together, she injects Quinn with the Narcan, which counteracts the morphine (I guess?) and revives her.

Sometime later, Charlie takes Quinn & Jordan to visit their mother's grave. As they leave, Quinn's phone bleeps and she sees Countdown Version 2.0 has updated itself on her phone. Here we go again!

In the mid-credit scene, Derek's on a Tinder date with an unlucky woman. Suddenly the lights go out, and he checks his Countdown app and sees it's at zero. He screams as he's dragged off.

Thoughts:
Countdown doesn't waste any time getting started, as it introduces the titular app within the first minute of its runtime!


• All horror movies need a set of consistent internal rules that the characters all have to follow. That way the audience knows just how the hero can kill the monster. Think Frankenstein's aversion to fire, the Wolfman's allergy to silver or the fact that Freddy Krueger can only kill you in your dreams.

Countdown features one major rule, but it's vague, murky and makes little or no sense. Once downloaded, the Countdown app tells you exactly when you're going to die. But if you do anything at all to change your fate, you violate the app's user agreement. As punishment, a demon will then come and drag you to Hell at the exact time of your predicted death. 

Wait, what? That... that doesn't make any sense. If you do nothing, you die. If you try to prevent your death, you also die. You have the choice of marching face first to your death and going to Heaven (I guess?), or cheating and being dragged painfully to Hell by a Demon. You're screwed no matter what you do, which makes for a very unsatisfying movie experience.

I get the distinct impression the screenwriter didn't think his plot all the way through, and by the time someone pointed out the flaw in his logic the movie was half done and it was too late to do anything about it.

I guess technically the same exact thing happened in every entry of the Final Destination franchise. The plot didn't seem so pointless and "damned if you do" in those films though.

• Part of the problem with Countdown is the dullness of the various deaths. Let's face it, the only reason people see movies like this is for the kills. The aforementioned Final Destination films all featured inventive and elaborate Goldbergian death scenes. Compare that to Countdown, in which victims are briefly menaced by fleeting demonic visions of their loved ones, right before they're thrown down a flight of stairs or hit by a car. Yawn.

We do manage to get a few very quick cuts of some scary monster hands grabbing at the characters, but there's nowhere near enough of it.

• The hospital in which Quinn works features a restricted wing that's currently under construction. 
Why does every horror movie hospital seem to have one of these areas? I assume it's so there's a dark, scary place for the villain to chase the Final Girl.

• Quinn clearly works on an upper floor of her hospital, as seen when Evan gazes out the window in the restricted area. So why then does the drug addict drag his half-dead girlfriend all the way up to her floor, rather than to the ER (which is on the ground floor, as in every hospital in the world)?

Answer: Because Quinn didn't work in the ER, and they needed to establish to somehow establish how Narcan works. Hence the junkie who doesn't seem to understand how hospitals are laid out.

• At one point Quinn tends to a patient in Room 237. Oy. All good horror fans will recognize that room number from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. It's the room Danny Torrance was warned to steer clear of.

Once again, let me offer a piece of advice to any and all directors out there— it's always a bad idea to remind the audience of other, BETTER movies they could be watching besides your own.


• Quinn's boss Dr. Sullivan is played by Peter Facinelli, who you may remember as the head of Edward's vampire clan in the Twilight movies. I guess he's contractually obligated to play doctors in every movie he's in.

Quinn's father Charlie is played by Matt Letscher. Fans of The Flash will recognize him as Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse Flash.

• I get that this is a horror movie, and as such I shouldn't expect much in the way of legal accuracy. T
hat said, there's no way in hell that Quinn's sexual harassment inquiry would have happened the way it did.

First of all, they sprang the meeting on her with no advance notice, leaving her totally unprepared. That meant she had no legal counsel of her own to protect her or advise her of her rights. Pretty sure that'd be against the law, and she could easily countersue the hospital.

Even worse, they had her sit right next to her accuser Dr. Sullivan! Jesus Christ! Who thought THAT would be a good idea! Again, I get that this isn't a courtroom drama. But it doesn't make for good storytelling in any genre!

• By far the funniest thing about this film is the fact that it features a technologically savvy Demon— one that uses an app user agreement as a means to collect souls.

I can just picture the Demon sitting in front of a computer, writing the code for this program, and then uploading it to the Google Play Store.

• Quinn & Matt seek out Derek, to hack into the Countdown app and see if there's any loophole in the agreement. A couple things here.

First of all, Derek manages to get a look at the app's code, and sees it's filled with Latin phrases. Wha...? I'm assuming it's like part of a spell that the Demon placed in the contract? I'm also assuming the Latin has been commented out of the code with the tag, else it's gonna wreak havoc with the program!

Secondly, embedded in the code are the names and death dates of EVERYONE who's ever downloaded the app. That must be a hell of a list! I'm betting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people downloaded the thing! Somehow Derek finds the names of Quinn, Matt and Jordan in all those names, and boosts their life clocks.

I guess the thousands of other users with little time left can all just go f*ck themselves. At no point does Quinn or anyone else ever suggest helping them out.

• Welcome to the Post #MeToo World. Quinn's boss Dr. Sullivan is a world class asshole, who forces himself on her and tries to get her fired when she refuses his slimy advances. Apparently that makes it perfectly OK for Quinn to try and kill him in order to break the Countdown curse! Jesus Christ!


OK, no one's arguing the fact that Sullivan's a rapey bastard. But does that really justify Quinn attempting to outright murder him? He's no longer even a person in her eyes— she sees him merely as a tool or object to use against the curse. Whatever happened to due process? 

Remember, Quinn's ostensibly the hero of the movie. We're supposed to be rooting for her— even when she's trying to kill a guy she doesn't like.

I have a feeling this is one of those divisive issues in which men have a problem with Quinn's actions, while women see it as perfectly reasonable.

• I can't find a good photo of it online, but the Demon's design was pretty cool— what we could see of it, that is.

• At the end of the movie, Quinn figures out that if she dies before she's supposed to, the curse will be lifted and everyone will be in the clear. Sure enough, that's exactly what happens. She injects herself with a fatal dose of morphine and promptly dies. This nullifies the user agreement, and for some reason the Demon turns to dust and vanishes.

OK, it's stupid, but I could understand why dying early would violate Quinn's own personal contract with the Demon. But why would her death nullify EVERYONE ELSE'S contracts? And why would it kill the Demon? See what I mean? No matter how you figure it, it just doesn't make any sense.

Again, taking an extra pass at the script would likely have helped this movie immensely.

• During the end credits, I wondered if there was an actual Countdown app available to download. I pulled out my phone to check, and sure enough, there are at least a dozen different ones available. None of them appear to be officially associated with the movie though.

Countdown is a mildly entertaining technological horror film that actually has some interesting ideas at its core. Too bad they're all so poorly realized. It desperately wants to be Final Destination, but doesn't seem to understand that the appeal of those films were the elaborate death scenes. I'd describe it as watchable, but I wouldn't suggest rushing out to the cineplex to see it. I give it a middling C.


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