Sunday, 10 November 2019
Appy Death Day
2019 USA Directed by Justin Dec
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Slight spoilers as to the set up of the movie.
Well this is a fun little movie. It’s not out and out brilliant but it is entertaining and it has a nice premise which the writer/director Justin Dec uses to riff on a mish mash of old genre tropes.
The plot is simple. A bunch of friends at a party download an app called Countdown which predicts and counts down to the end of your life in Years, Weeks, Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds. Since nobody believes in such things being possible with an app (obviously), they are not worried about that proposition and the reason they download it in the first place is to use it as a drinking game... the one who has the nearest death prediction has to drink everybody’s shots. Well, of course, one of them gets a time which is only a couple of hours away and both she and, a few days later, her boyfriend, die from being killed by some kind of demon at their predicted second.
This is when the main protagonist of our story, Quinn (played by Elizabeth Lail), a recently graduated nurse, comes in. She witnesses the emotional impact on the boyfriend and figures he’ll soon be fine once he realises he’s not going to die so, of course, when he does die at the alloted time, in the hospital she works in, she starts getting very worried. Especially since her and another load of hospital staff also downloaded the app the previous day and, you guessed it, Quinn has little more than two days left to live. So yeah, before you know it she is trying to outwit the demon who is obviously taking up all her waking thoughts, especially since her new ally (played by Jordan Calloway) and her own sister have even less time to live than her.
Simple set up and the director is basically just riffing with it. As you can see, it’s pretty much a common or garden ‘demon curse that follows you around until your untimely death’ movie, following in the footsteps of such treasures as Drag Me To Hell, It Follows (reviewed here), Ringu (review coming sooner or later), Truth or Dare (reviewed here) and, of course, the grand daddy template and chief influencer of all supernatural curse stories Night Of The Demon (aka Curse Of The Demon, reviewed here), which was of course an adaptation of M. R. James’ short story Casting The Runes (you can find my review of the TV adaptation of this one here). That being said, in this one you can’t actually rid yourself of the curse or stall it by passing it on like those just mentioned... just get more people hurt, so it’s also probably very much like the Final Destination movies but, as I’ve never seen any of those, that’s only my best guess.
Now I never really get tired of these viral curse movies anyway but the pacing and writing on this is all pretty good. The director has thrown in lots of little strands of things he can pull on at the appropriate time such as the turbulent but healing relationship between Quinn and her younger sister (played here by Talitha Bateman from Annabelle Creation - reviewed by me here), Quinn’s guilt over the death of her mother and a male villain who is definitely put in to highlight the current ‘me too’ movement... although, to be fair, the director uses this character as a clever way of short cutting to a possible solution to Quinn and her friends’ problem, using this to deliberately crush her hopes at the eleventh hour.
Also, though, as I said in my first paragraph, the director happily cross pollinates varying horror sub-genres here by, for example, going the ‘full Dennis Wheatley’ at one point with salted circles harbouring protection symbols, used to shield the main characters from a visit by the demon (which you just know is going to go wrong). There’s even a moment in this which is a dead steal from what is probably the most memorable scare moment in The Haunting (reviewed by me here). All I shall say about this is that there’s a definitive ‘the horror thing already happened but you didn’t notice’ realisation where the writer/director parodies the “Oh my gawd. Whose hand was I holding?” moment done in, really much the same way.
There are also some great comical characters in the movie too. For example, the IT expert who manages the local phone store, played by Tom Segura, who is quite hilariously rude (and therefore true to life when it comes to people working in IT?) to almost everyone he spends time with, representing one of the ‘solutions’ of the movie when he tries to hacks Countdown App and reset all the clocks (if you want to find out the final fate of his character, stay behind for a bit after the credits have started rolling). Or the brilliant ‘rock and roll exorcism priest’ played by P.J. Byrne, who unfortunately drops clean out of the movie after his failed attempt at saving the life of one of the main protagonists. I don’t know why he’s just not referred to again, at least, later on in the picture.
In all honesty, the film isn’t really all that scary but it does have the occasional effective jump moments along the way. One of the smart things the writer/director does to ratchet up the tension in certain scenes is to have the Countdown App giving notifications every minute for the last five minutes or so of the victim’s life, which come in the form of irritating screams... which the director uses to full advantage. So perhaps it isn’t the scariest movie out there but, frankly, the same can be said for a lot of modern horror movies and this one, at least, is nicely put together and short enough so it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
All in all, then, what we have here is a genre piece where the emphasis is on fun rather than scares but, honestly, it works fine on that level for me. Well, I say it’s not scary but, I noticed the app is now available on the app store and I’m certainly not brave enough to download that one just yet. If you are into horror films and want to watch something which is done competently and possibly using some of the most clichéd styles of the genre in the most entertaining way possible then Countdown is probably something you’ll want to take a look at. The only real downside is the somewhat rather blatant set up for Countdown 2... it’s not subtle and grates a bit... although I suspect, judging from the amount of people in the cinema when I saw it, the box office on this one may not be enough to green light a sequel on, unless it does well on DVD and Blu Ray rentals.