Monday, April 6, 2020

A PSA About Reading the Terms & Conditions

We've had our share of killer dolls, killer beds, killer microwaves, killer wigs...why WOULDN'T we expect to find a whole subgenre about murderous phone apps?

Quick Plot: Courteney and her pals are playing a drinking game when a diet discussion leads them to discover Countdown, a smartphone app that tells you the exact time of your expected death. Think of it as Helena Bonham Carter's Big Fish witch character as a phone icon.

While her pals' prognosis ranges between age 20 and 63, poor Courtney has just three hours on her clock. Her drunk driving boyfriend Evan is unimpressed, though Courtney is smart enough to walk home. 

No matter: Courtney is murdered by an unseen force in her bathroom just as
Evan crashes, the empty passenger seat destroyed. Some time later, Evan is awaiting his surgery when he meets Quinn, a friendly almost-nurse who listens to his ravings long enough to download Countdown. Like Courtney, her numbers aren't great. Throw in a sexually harassing supervisor, ill-behaved kid sister, and guilt over a dead mom and you've got a pretty rough few days left for Quinn. 

Thankfully, she's not alone. Joined by a helpful fellow doomed stranger named Matt and eager-beaver priest, Quinn plots to save a batch of unlucky app users.

Written and directed by first timer Justin Dec, Countdown didn't get the highest reception from critics or fans when it premiered in theaters last year. App-based horror films have a tough wall to climb, since the concept still sounds silly to most filmgoers. Honestly, this is something I don't understand. Movies, particularly the cheaper genre type, are ALWAYS going to grab onto the most zeitgeist-y tools of their time. As I say all the time with social media slashers, why wouldn't a young filmmaker use that platform to reach the exact target audience that uses the technology?

That's not to say that Countdown is by any means great. Clearly descended from the Final Destination school of combining humor with elaborately foreshadowed deaths, it doesn't quite marry its tones as well as I would have liked. There's a lightness fitting of its PG-13 rating, and Elizabeth Lail (poor stalked Beck of You) works well in the lead. Unfortunately, the horror aspect never really clicks into place. 

There are the token demon-faced spurts, lots of darkly lit hallways, and random ghosts-of-their-pasts cameos that seem to complicate the overall nature of Countdown (the app) without adding much to Countdown (the movie). It's messy. 

But hey, dumb horror doesn't necessarily mean unenjoyable horror. I probably enjoyed Countdown far more than most genre fans not because it was scary, but because it had a certain sense of fun. I can't particularly recommend it to most viewers, but there's a good time to be had with low expectations.

High Points
Dec clearly has a pleasantly clever touch, and it's mostly on display with his more extreme side characters. What could be grating--a sarcastic tech guy and unorthodox priest--brings just the right amount of spark to an otherwise dreary tale

Low Points
While there are some decent setups and jump scares, like so many recent horror films, Countdown struggles mightily when it comes to embodying its demons in physical form

Lessons Learned
The way you get fat is by eating too many calories

The real sign that humanity is doomed is that too many people use their phones for texting and Facebook

If you're lucky enough to overdose at just the right time, you just might get some cake

Always read the terms and conditions. Oh, who are we kidding? Most of us would rather accept a supernatural death than actually do that every time we download something

Countdown doesn't play at the same level as a Final Destination or even the similarly styled Wish Upon, but it's perfectly fine for what it is and undeserving of the strangely aggressive hate it seemed to collect upon its release. When you're trying to kill 90 minutes without too much thought, it might prove satisfying enough.

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