'Countdown': Film Review

Courtesy of STXfIlms
If you were going to die next week, would you give 90 of your remaining minutes to this?

Justin Dec's debut thriller imagines a phone app that tells you when you'll die, then gets angry if you try avoiding your fate.

Do we really need to invent more reasons to hate our phones? Or to feel stupid about all those terms-of-use "agreements" we click "yes" to without reading? In Justin Dec's Countdown, the Devil has written a killer app, and deleting it is almost as hard as getting Google to let go of your personal data. A pedestrian thriller whose personal-tech gimmick is even more thinly imagined than one might guess, it's a jumble of cheap jump scares made watchable by likable leads Elizabeth Lail and Jordan Calloway.

Lail plays Quinn, a newly minted registered nurse dealing with a patient (Dillon Lane) who might be better off in a psych ward: He's terrified by a ticking-clock app on his phone that tells him he's going to die at the same time he's scheduled to go in for a routine surgery. Thing is, the app (called Countdown) just correctly predicted his girlfriend's (Anne Winters) untimely death, and it winds up being right about this one, too.

Unfortunately, Quinn installed the app on her phone before she realized its fortune-telling claims weren't a joke, and it says she has just a day or two to live. (What are the odds of three people so young dying unrelated accidental deaths in such proximity?) Starting to freak out, she tries deleting Countdown and canceling plans to travel, but the app knows her every move — it serves her up an alert accusing her of breaking her user agreement and, in the real world, starts sending apparitions to scare her silly.

Those spirits are garden-variety boogeymen, wraiths who sometimes just show up in the rear-view mirror before vanishing; sometimes place a decomposing hand on your shoulder; and sometimes invisibly knock you over and drag you across at high speed across unswept floors. I'll take option A, please. They're also tormenting Matt (Calloway), who meets Quinn at the mobile-phone store where she's trying to buy a phone the Devil doesn't live in. (Better make sure Twitter isn't preinstalled!) That tactic fails, but soon Matt and Quinn team up to get the store's owner (Tom Segura) to hack into the app's source code (ummm...), where they find lines and lines of text in Latin. You knew this was leading to an eccentric priest eventually, right?

P.J. Byrne's Father John knows demons like a hard-core Trekkie knows Klingon verb conjugation — which is to say, he's never met one in person, but he can easily pull up dubious arcana applicable to any given situation. He tells the youngsters a fable about a prince and a gypsy woman who foresees his death (the preferred nomenclature is "Romani," dude), and explains that those given knowledge of the time of their death are expected to do nothing with that info but wait politely for the Grim Reaper to come. Or, they could try to foil Satan's plans. Guess which path our heroes take?

Writer-director Dec's feature debut plays out on the screen like the generic hokum it is, never finding its own flavor as it sets characters up against their impending, impossible-to-avoid deaths. A subplot involving a sexual predator (Peter Facinelli) in Quinn's workplace has a bit more to offer the film than is initially apparent, but is less satisfying in the end than it might have been — as is the plot's final resolution, which would be nicely tidy if not for an eye-rolling coda in which the filmmakers predictably reveal their thirst for a sequel.

Production company: Wrigley Pictures
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Cast: Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Peter Facinelli, Dillon Lane, Tichina Arnold, P.J. Byrne, Tom Segura, Matt Letscher, Anne Winters
Director-screenwriter: Justin Dec
Producers: Sean Anders, John Morris, John Rickard, Zack Schiller
Executive producers: Matthew Medlin, Gregory Plotkin, Robert Simonds, Tyler Zacharia
Director of photography: Maxime Alexandre
Production designer: Clayton Hartley
Costume designer: Abby O'Sullivan
Composers: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Casting director: Rich Delia

Rated PG-13, 90 minutes