Elizabeth Lail in Countdown (Photo: STXFilms)
* (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Justin Dec
STARS Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway
Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 masterpiece The Seventh Seal contains the justifiably famous scene in which a stoic knight (Max von Sydow) sits down with Death himself to play a game of chess. I suppose if any enterprising American filmmaker elects to remake the film anytime soon, that sequence will be replaced with one in which a stoned frat boy whips out his smartphone and challenges Death to a round of Angry Birds or Words with Friends.
For now, filmgoers salivating over such a scene will have to make do with Countdown, an utterly ludicrous horror flick that’s being promoted with the tagline, “Death? There’s an App for That.” It’s understandable if anyone mistakenly believes the movie is about some of those dubious and possibly fatal appetizers served at chain restaurants, but this is actually about the other type of app.
The movie begins with a group of friends downloading Countdown, an app that tells the user the exact moment he or she will die. Everyone obviously believes it’s just a gag, but soon people whose time is supposedly up in a matter of hours or days find themselves killed in grisly ways. A nurse named Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) is among those who downloads the app, and she discovers that she only has a few days left to live; worse, her teenage sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) is supposed to perish three minutes before her. Rather than go gently into that fearful night, Quinn elects to fight back, teaming up with another person (Jordan Calloway) marked for death and seeking advice from a nerdy priest (P.J. Byrne) who believes the app was created by a demon with too much time on his hands.
I’m trying to wrap my mind around how a demon went about creating this app — did he sit down in a library’s computer center and patiently enter hours of coding? — but never mind. As a horror film, Countdown is feeble in almost every regard, with writer-director Justin Dec not even attempting to establish genuine suspense but instead relying on a ceaseless stream of jump-scare moments that all fall flat. There’s a story strand involving a rapey doctor (Peter Facinelli, the Cullen patriarch in the Twilight flicks) that’s clumsily integrated into the action, and the overall plotting is so diffuse that there’s not really a sense of how much this app might be throwing the country into chaos (the extent of Quinn’s research is watching a doomed woman on YouTube tearfully warn others about the app before conveniently being snatched from camera’s view in a very Blair Witch-like manner).
The cardboard characters are even less interesting than the usual slaughter fodder seen in empty-headed slasher flicks, although stand-up comedian Tom Segura contributes a few amusing moments as a sarcastic techie who reluctantly assists Quinn. His character unexpectedly turns up again late in the game, in one of a pair of sequences that suggest the filmmakers are expecting this to gross enough to warrant a sequel. So to those who might be considering catching this for Halloween: Just say no.