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‘Countdown’ lacks app-titude

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Horror films have long served as a reflection of society’s real-life fears. Seeing the things that scare us outsized and twisted on the big screen can give us a different perspective on that which we fear.

The ubiquity of the internet and the various concerns it inspires have led to a wealth of horror movies built on a foundation of those (often well-founded) fears. Whether it’s the addictive qualities, the social disconnect, the constant surveillance and lack of privacy or any one of a dozen other things, there’s plenty of scary stuff about the internet.

And when you’ve got scary stuff, you’ll eventually get scary movies. Or at least, movies that TRY to be scary.

The latest iteration of the “internet is evil” horror subgenre is “Countdown,” a nonsensical supernatural thriller whose basic conceit seems to be that ignoring the terms of service will kill you. It’s a slapdash attempt to mine the internet for scares, throwing a filter over the standard “evil curse” narrative and calling it a day. It meanders and flails, jumbling together a mess of clichés and assorted tropes without ever committing to anything consistent. In fact, the only thing consistent about this movie is its unrelenting stupidity.

We open at a party where a bunch of teenagers decide to randomly download a mysterious app called “Countdown” that purports to tell you just how long you have before you die. Most of the kids get high numbers, but Courtney (Anne Winters, TV’s “13 Reasons Why”) and her boyfriend Evan (Dillon Lane, “Charlie Says”) get countdowns that are set to end much sooner, with Courtney’s concluding that very night. She chooses not to get into a drunken Evan’s car and opts to walk home, getting a notification that she has violated Countdown’s terms of service. Suffice it to say, her countdown winds up being EXTREMELY accurate.

Quinn (Elizabeth Lail, TV’s “You”) is a nurse-in-training at a local hospital. She’s got some concerns, both personal and professional – she’s still dealing with the recent death of her mother in a drunk driving accident while also fending off the inappropriate advances of Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli, “Running with the Devil”). She’s also struggling to stay connected with her younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman, “Robert the Bruce”).

But when Evan – who was injured in a car accident at the same moment that Courtney died – shares his fears about the Countdown app with Quinn (and when his own countdown comes to an end), she has some questions. Questions that lead to her downloading the app herself, only to discover that she’s only got a few days left.

It only gets dumber from there, I’m afraid. Quinn goes to a smartphone store to get a new phone to try and dodge the app, which of course doesn’t work (and violates the terms of service to boot). It’s there that she meets Matt (Jordan Calloway, “Legacy”), another Countdown user with a limited time left to live. The two convince the smartphone guy to hack the app (because that’s totally how this works) and discover that there’s Latin in there (because OF COURSE there is), so they go to a priest, who sends them to ANOTHER priest named Father John (P.J. Byrne, “The World Without You”), who happens to be a real nerd about demons and such.

Oh, and Jordan has also downloaded the app because everyone is stupid and why should she be an exception? So Quinn and her cohort have to come up with some sort of solution before their countdowns reach zero and the scary death monster shows up.

I wish my own countdown had ended before I sat through “Countdown.”

Leaving aside the fact that the whole killer internet thing is largely played out at this point, “Countdown” doesn’t even bother to bring anything new to the table. Everything you see in this movie is something that you’ve seen before in an almost-certainly better movie in the past. The narrative is flimsy, offering little rhyme or reason regarding what’s happening. Explicit explanation isn’t necessary, but some degree of basic storytelling coherence would be nice. Character motivations are unclear and underdeveloped; people make decisions for nonsensical reasons or simply no reason whatsoever.

And the thing just isn’t scary. At all.

Writer/director Justin Dec is making his feature debut with this film … and it shows. There’s a lack of consistency throughout, both in terms of the story and the telling of it. There are stretches of the movie that feel like the script simply said “Advance Plot” and everyone decided to just kind of wing it. People make stupid choices and then double and triple down on the stupidity. And even in those fleeting moments when the movie seems like it wants to say something, it can’t get anywhere beyond “The internet is bad and also filled with evil magic.”

The cast is blandly attractive in an instantly forgettable way. Lail, Calloway, Bateman – I can’t even say that they’re bad because who the hell even knows with a script like this one? The other youngsters – Winters, Lane and the like – are even less memorable than the ostensible leads. The best we get is an unapologetically phoned-in d-bag turn from Facinelli, a couple of smug jerk scenes courtesy of Tom Segura as the smartphone dude and an admittedly-fun bit of scenery chewing from Byrne.

“Countdown” is sloppy, dull horror, lacking in both scares and social commentary. It’s a whole lot of nothing. The story is incoherent, the performances are lackluster and the tone is muddled. The most frightening aspect of this movie is the fact that people paid money to see it.

We can only hope that this is the final “Countdown.”

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Last modified on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 06:41

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