REVIEW: COUNTDOWN is an surprisingly enjoyable Halloween season popcorn flick that is playfully self-aware of its unwieldy premise.


At first glance, the premise of Countdown, an app that tells you when you die and supernaturally conspires to make it happen, is somewhat groan-inducing. But despite some flaws, it’s still an enjoyable ride.

Countdown, on the surface, comes across as the embodiment of the running joke from Forgetting Sarah Marshall about her unfortunate film debut, a phone that kills people; how do you make that scary? Are you going to say something about society and our dependence on technology? The script doesn’t really succeed in making the premise scary or say much about society. But where it works is in leaning in towards the film’s somewhat silly premise and imbuing the movie with a lot of comic elements and characters that keep the film interesting, even if the final product is not too much more than the love child of Final Destination by way of Happy Death Day.

As the film starts, we meet a group of kids at a party. One starts talking about how she’s staying skinny by using an app called Countdown to Skinny. The others are interested, but find another app while looking for it called Countdown, which says it will tell you when you die. As a party game, they all download it, with most getting decades ahead of them. However, one of them gets a few hours and becomes freaked out by it. By and far, this is the film’s most effective “scary” sequence, and if the film was a short, this would be a very good short. However, we then follow her boyfriend who finds himself in a hospital as he befriends student nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail). He tells of her of the app as he fears he will die soon and she shares it with the staff, as they all download it, and again, most get decades of long life, except Quinn, who gets less than a day. When Quinn makes a decision that might change her fate, the app sends her a Terms of Use violation and suddenly she finds herself tormented by supernatural forces trying to make sure she meets her fate as the app dictates.

Again, on the surface, this seems super hokey. But the film largely works due to a good performance by Lail, who has a lot of screen charisma and her likeability keeps us invested in her character’s fate, as well as Jordan Calloway as Matt, a fellow Countdown victim whom Quinn meets at a cell phone store as she tries to ditch her phone to no avail. The movie populates itself with characters who point out the silliness of the premise in a way that makes you realize the filmmakers are having fun with it, from surly app hackers to evil computer code written in Latin, and an exorcist who loves the Bible because its “the ultimate graphic novel!” The character design for the film’s embodiment of death is very cool when you see its face and the idea of an ancient curse jumping from scroll to app life is fun. That being said, the film has way too many jump scares to the point they lose their effectiveness way too early and become all too predictable. A bit less would’ve been more here.

Overall, Countdown isn’t the farce I was expecting on the surface. It is very much in the vein of a low budget Blumhouse film, but world’s better than something like Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare. A clever self-aware script and solid lead performances and some clever stunt casting with comedians like Tom Segura help it stay entertaining above direct to VOD fare, even if the CGI jump scares and liberal resemblance to other genre films bring it down a notch.