When a young nurse (Elizabeth Lail) downloads an app that claims to predict exactly when a person is going to die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With time ticking away and a mysterious figure haunting her, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out.
The latest killer app everyone's talking about is Countdown, which claims to reveal - down to the second - how long a user has left to live. When one of her patients passes away at the time of death predicted by the app, Quinn (Lail) a newly-qualified nurse, downloads Countdown herself and discovers she has three days left to live. Haunted by shadowy figures and terrifying nightmares in the interim, Quinn sets out to identify and defeat the evil behind the app before her time runs out...
'Countdown' starts well, setting the action up nicely with a 'Scream'-esque prologue establishing the app, the danger it poses, and the logic of how it works, before nicely moving into the main narrative. With that said, the conceit that the characters know when they're going to die does make for somewhat empty, dissatisfying scares. Even amidst visions of grim reapers and zombified loved ones, the audience knows nothing is going to happen to Quinn, or other app users, before the clock runs down. That dissonance between the plot and the by-the-book scare tactics weakens the horror of the latter a little, and some odd directorial choices and scripting don’t do much to alleviate that. However, there are some good individual set pieces, such Quinn having to get inventive in a morgue to unlock the phone of a recently-deceased man.
Quinn’s attempts to understand the cursed app, banding together with her sister (Talitha Bateman), a fellow doomed app user (Justin Calloway), a sardonic phone shop owner, and a nerdy priest to try and figure out how it works, do make for some Scooby Gang-type super-sleuthing, and it’s in these scenes the film best reveals its sense of humour. The app being rated 3.6 on the App Store is one of its funnier recurring visual gags, and there's a plot point about nobody ever reading the terms and conditions when installing an app, which proves to have dire consequences, although that’s as far as the film goes in terms of commenting on cultural anxiety around technology taking over our lives (and deaths). It’s a shame the film overall struggles to balance the tone of these scenes with the more generic horror movie structure to which it adheres.
With its high-concept plot and focus on a young adult blonde woman racing against time to avoid a death that appears inevitable, it's hard not to compare ‘Countdown‘ to the cult hit 'Happy Death Day', (and its recent sequel, 'Happy Death Day 2 U'). With that said, 'Countdown' lead Elizabeth Lail, who will be familiar to anyone who binged ‘You’ on Netflix earlier this year, doesn’t quite have the screen presence of Jessica Rothe from 'Happy Death Day', never quite hitting the comic or dramatic beats as hard as one might like; nor does the script often serve her well to do so.
Indeed, despite being written around a good idea, the script is quite thin and basic, with underwhelming dialogue, a lack of interest in exploring some of the more intriguing ideas about fate and predestination raised by the app, and an overall lack of coherence in terms of fusing horror, comedy, and commentary. The inclusion of an unnecessary subplot around Quinn’s predatory boss (Peter Facinelli) also feels as if it’s there just to pad the 90-minute film out a bit.
'Countdown' has a great premise and makes for some cheap and cheerful Halloween fun, but it’s nevertheless rather by the numbers, and doesn't quite add up to much more than a particularly gnarly episode of 'Black Mirror'.