REVIEW: 'Countdown' makes its scares count with digitally delivered death

Marcus Goh
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

SINGAPORE — Fate. Ever since the dawn of humanity, humans have been obsessed with knowing (and attempting to defy) one's own fate. Of course, such stories are usually cautionary tales of self-fulfilling prophecies or the dangers of playing god with one's life. Countdown takes a different approach to this trope and turns it into a frighteningly good horror story — but it inadvertently leaves us with a slightly twisted moral at the end.

Countdown is a horror movie that centres around a mysterious mobile app that can predict the exact time of a user's death. A young woman, still grieving about her deceased mother, runs afoul of the app when she tries to change circumstances to prevent her death. She soon finds that fate (and the app) is determined to see her death through, no matter who or what it has to send to make it happen.


'Zombieland: Double Tap' is schlocky and a lot of fun

'Terminator: Dark Fate' mines what works about the franchise intelligently

'Hello World' is a mind-boggling, sci-fi romance anime

As a horror movie, the film knows what its primary purpose is, and it does it well. The scares are good, mainly because they come when you least expect it — even when you're prepared for it. It sets up the mood, creates suspense, preps you for the inevitable horror that's about to come... but when it actually does, it's unexpected and well executed. The film doesn't dabble in cheap scares or jump scares that come out of left field. It knows when's the right moment to scare you, and even when you're ready for it, the scares are still strategically placed and executed.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

The movie also integrates modern technology into the hauntings, although not to the same degree as films like Unfriended or Friend Request. Nevertheless, it does remember that we're living in the modern world and not the same era as say, the ‘70s of The Exorcist, and has the hauntings and characters react accordingly. We're not just talking about mobile phones here, but other forms of technology and various screens. But with the deadliness of the app, it does raise some questions about the imaginary mobile ecosystem and how it can allow such a lethal app to continue being available for so long. It'd definitely be banned in Singapore within 24 hours, just like how the government banned fighting game Fight of Gods rather quickly in 2017, so you're wondering why no programmer or detective has picked up on the app's killing spree.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

But Countdown sacrifices its story to make its scares work, because the plot is... lacklustre. It's a story of how an ancient curse somehow finds its way into the contemporary world, but its explanation is more of cursory exposition than anything else. It does keep you in suspense by tossing you some red herrings about the antagonist's eventual defeat, but the eventual resolution is pretty suspect.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

I'm on the fence about the conclusion — while it works mechanically and you can see how the film was structured to deliver this sort of ending, it doesn't feel earned, as there wasn't enough set-up for such an ending. Its surprising nature works to maintain the suspense though (you'll never see it coming), but it's so out of left field that it feels like quite a stretch. And given the premise, you'd expect the story to have turned out a different way, instead of giving us a warped moral about defying fate.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Thankfully, the dialogue for Countdown is snappy and witty, with plenty of memorable exchanges and cute one-liners. For a short horror movie, the dialogue does tackle pertinent issues with an air of authenticity, touching on some fairly timely social issues. None of these are critical to the plot though, but it does help to build the world that the film is set in. It also creates a good contrast between the atrocities that humans can inflict on each other and atrocities of a supernatural kind, although there is a lost opportunity to do something about the dangers of tempting and defying fate.

Countdown needed to work on its plot more, which is quite wonky in places. But it knows how to make its scares count, which is arguably the more important aspect of the film. It's a lower profile horror movie that knows what it's doing. Remember to stay back for a cute mid-credits scene.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like horror.

Score: 3.3/5

Running time: 90 min

Countdown is a horror movie. It is written and directed by Justin Dec. It stars Elizabeth Lail (Quin Harris), Jordan Calloway (Matt Monroe), Talitha Bateman (Jordan), Tichina Arnold (Amy), PJ Byrne (Father John), and Peter Facinelli (Dr. Sullivan). It is rated PG13.

Countdown opens in cinemas:
- 31 October 2019 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

Follow Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore on Facebook.