Countdown (2019)
Universal // PG-13 // $34.98 // January 21, 2020
Review by William Harrison | posted February 12, 2020
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THE FILM:

Low-budget horror flick Countdown was inevitable. At its core, the film represents STX Entertainment and Universal Studios attempting to replicate the success of Blumhouse Productions, purveyors of fine, microbudget horror films like Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Happy Death Day. Universal distributes Blumhouse films, too, so I was not shocked to see the familiar in-theater, audience-reaction TV spots for Countdown last fall. Director Justin Dec even shoots for Happy Death Day success by installing a perky blonde, Elizabeth Lail, as his protagonist. Despite Lail's best efforts, Countdown is a dud of a film; totally reliant on ineffective jump scares and soundtrack stingers and lacking a compelling story.

A teenager convinces her friends at a party to download a phone app that indicates it will predict how long the user has to live, because, OMG!, it's super crazy. One teen, Courtney (Anne Winters), downloads the app and is given just three hours to live. She decides not to snag a ride from her drunk boyfriend, Evan (Dillon Lane) and instead walks home. The boyfriend crashes his Jeep and a tree impales the passenger seat. Simultaneously, Courtney gets a message from the app, stating she has broken the user agreement. Upon arriving home, she is shot to the ceiling by an unseen force and killed. Evan ends up at the local hospital and begs nurse Quinn Harris (Lail) to keep him out of surgery, as his countdown clock will expire while he is under anesthesia. Quinn soon downloads the app herself and discovers she will die in three days. As other users of the app, including Evan, meet the same grisly demise as Courtney, Quinn realizes she might just be toast.

The premise of downloading a phone app that predicts the date of one's death is not particularly unexpected in such a tech-obsessed society, but I wish Dec, who also wrote the script, had any interesting ideas about the creation of the app or the forces behind it. After Quinn and a new friend, Matt (Jordan Calloway), do some digging they discover that SPOILER ALERT a demon called Ozhin serves as the app's enforcer, and killing those who violate the user agreement by attempting to change their fates is simply a modern exploration of events that happened ages ago when humans were granted similar knowledge. The app does not discriminate; some users are granted long lifespans and others have mere hours to fill. When the time is up, the demon comes. End of story.

Lail gives an energetic performance and does her best with the lousy script. The supporting cast is generally bland. The film relies almost totally on jump scares, and only a handful of those are close to effective. The film also adds an unnecessary sexual harassment plot at Quinn's workplace, and burdens the viewer with her estranged family drama, too. Countdown is a $6.5-million cash grab, and I doubt anyone involved felt they were making a horror film for the ages. Even at just 90 minutes the film drags, and its PG-13 rating ensures there are is nothing to satisfy gorehounds or T&A fanatics. This is a bland, disposable consumer product not worth the time it takes to digest.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is perfectly competent, as you'd expect from a new production. This is a limited-budget film, but the image is sharp and well defined, with solid depth of field and texture. Fine-object detail is abundant, colors are nicely saturated, and contrast is appropriate. Black levels are strong, black crush is kept to a minimum, and I only noticed very slight motion blur during quick pans. I did not notice edge halos or any shimmer.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is reasonably immersive, but certainly not reference quality. Dialogue is largely front-loaded but always clear, and horror elements like flickering lights, attacking demons and car crashes make use of the surrounds and LFE. The score is balanced with the dialogue and effects appropriately, but expect some very loud sound cues during those aforementioned jump scares. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

The set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. There are no extras.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This lousy horror film about a phone app that predicts the time of a user's death is destined to wind up in the budget bin in appropriately 6 days, 14 hours, 5 minutes and 33 seconds from the time of this review's publication. Skip It.



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