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COUNTDOWN (October 29th)


Horror has always played on the fears of society. From nuclear holocaust to religious extremism to mistrust in Government (all of these are still as relevant as ever by the way). Technology is another subject that can excite and terrify in equal measure. Iphones, fitbits and Netflix are all cool for sure but where does it all end? Errr, hello! Skynet! Films such as 'Unfriended' and 'Friend Request' may have explored the horror of social media (oh it can be a dark dark place) but one device that most people seem unable to live without is their mobile phone. In fact we've become quite dependent on them. Whilst real world fears regarding this largely amount to kids spending too much time on them and people using them whilst driving, in Justin Dec's horror film 'Countdown' cranks things up another notch.

The opening few minutes see a group of friends at a party, engaging in the usual cliché teen small talk. Half of them are on their phones, naturally, when one of them asks them if they have heard of an app called 'Countdown'. The concept is pretty simple; you download the app and it tells you how much longer you have left to live (I'm sure Karl Pilkington came up with this idea a while back!). The friends all decide to download it for shits and gigs, although one of them is more reluctant than the other. The others rightly mock her for being so cautious. I mean, come on – who on earth actually thinks that an app can tell you when you are going to die? That's crazy! Isn't it? Well, not so much. After downloading it, one of the gang is told that they only have a couple of hours left to live. Suffice to say they don't last the night. Fast forward a few weeks and a young nurse called Quinn (played by Elizabeth Lail) tries to comfort a young man who is ready to go into surgery. He downloaded the app also (he's one of the group at the start of the film) and also has been informed that he only has a matter of hours to live. Quinn dismisses it but when she downloads the app herself and is told that she also only has a couple of days to live, she gradually starts to realise that her life is in real danger...

The critical reviews of Countdown have not been particularly kind. They generally point to the flimsy characters, the absurd and slightly derivative plot, the overuse of jump scares and other cliches. And they're all bang on. Countdown is a flawed, imperfect film that doesn't really make too much sense on many levels. But you know what? It's also regrettably quite enjoyable.

For a start the film doesn't take itself too seriously. When you are operating in territory as silly as this, it's best not to play it too straight and in the last forty minutes or so, the introduction of a couple of light-relief characters elevate the sense of fun and schlockiness of the entire thing. Tom Segura is especially entertaining as the nerdy mobile phone salesman. It never fully ventures into comedy horror but it gets close at times.

Although the characters are all a tad flat, Elizabeth Lail makes for a really likeable lead. She's got a steely determination and pluckiness that makes her easy to root for. Although the premise of this movie feels as if it could result in watching a lot of empty headed and vacuous teens acting the part, there's actually not much of that happening at all. Lail's performance is actually rather understated - she's like a mix of Alison Lohman from Drag Me To Hell and Jennifer Lawrence.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is how effective Countdown is on the horror front. Make no mistake, this is PG-13 horror fare – and some of the jump scares (there are a lot) are quite clearly telegraphed. But there are a couple that are really quite good. Dec also manages to grind out a decent level of tension from a number of scenes and although we get to see the antagonist here (numerous times actually), it's done in a way where we never really get to see too much or too often. Visual FX has been the death of many similar movies but kudos for maintaining a certain level of intrigue. Gore and blood are not really what this film is about however, so gorehounds may be disappointed but for those looking for something a bit creepy and jumpy then they'll get some joy out of this. None of this is particularly new or groundbreaking but it's all good fun.

'Countdown' does feel a bit too similar to Final Destination to really claim to be original in anyway. The idea of cheating your fate and death coming after you is embedded in both but in it's defence, Countdown doesn't feel like a complete rip-off. In fact, when it comes to explaining the 'big bad', it goes down a very different route, even if the exposition is a little ham fisted. The concept of a discernIble deadline that each character is working to also means that things never drag. Most of them only have a day or two to live from the outset so the pressure is mounting all the time. Of course, people could avoid the whole issue by just not downloading it but then we'd have no movie obviously.

Are there problems with vital parts of the film as a whole? Definitely. Does it break new ground or having anything of any worth to say? Not really. Is it an enjoyable watch? Absolutely.

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