In ‘Countdown,’ Your Phone Tells You When You’ll Die
If your phone could tell you the exact time of your death, would you want to know? In the horror film “Countdown,” Nurse Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) finds herself scrambling to escape her fate after strange new app informs her that she only has two days to live. Of course, the idea of a smartphone having the capacity to predict such a thing seems ludicrous, but Quinn is convinced otherwise after witnessing several strange happenings, including the death of a teen patient (Dillon Lane) at the exact time the Countdown app predicted.
To make the situation even more dire, the app of Quinn’s teen sister Jordan (Talitha Eliana Bateman) has her death at only a few minutes before her own, which can’t just be an eerie coincidence. Now, Quinn finds herself in a suspenseful race against the clock to save both of their lives.
“Countdown” was written and directed by Justin Dec. The rising filmmaker chatted with Entertainment Voice about the project, which started off as a short film. He began by discussing the genesis of the premise. “I was setting a timer on my phone and just watching it tick down, and the idea just popped in there. What if this timer was ticking down to when I was going to die? A totally normal thought.”
Dec combines modern themes with classic horror tropes here, as Quinn and her love interest Matt (Jordan Calloway), who’s also learned that he’s not long for this world, discover that an ancient curse has brought about the Countdown app. With help from a hip-hop-loving priest, Father John (P.J. Byrne), they make the connection to antiquated tale of a prince whose death was predicted by a gypsy woman.
“We completely made that up,” Dec said with a laugh when asked about the story. Though it was important for him to create a mythology for the film, he didn’t wish to tempt fate. “I was really superstitious about using a real demon’s name. I didn’t want a real demon coming to our set, so we just went with a fake one.”
Although “Countdown” is filled with scares, a highlight is the comedic performance by character actor Byrne, who plays what Dec describes as a hip “Comic Con priest.” According to the director, he gave Byrne much freedom on set, and the result was not only more laughs, but also more layers added to the story.
“We actually were kinda nervous about saying too much [about the folklore], because the more mysterious, the better. It just makes it scarier. But then P.J. did such an amazing job telling that mythology. It just played so well, we decided to keep it. It does give the film more of an ancient feeling of something that’s been around forever.”
Loss is also a theme in “Countdown,” as both Quinn and Jordan are both still coming to terms with the death of their mother six years earlier, and Matt still hasn’t gotten over the untimely death of his brother. For all three of them, their grief is compounded by the guilt they feel over certain actions, and this is manifested in visions of the deceased, as wells as creepy demons.
Dec spoke about the process of creating the scarier horror scenes, which contained supernatural elements and jump scares. “I had this great storyboard artist, Eric Yamamoto, who worked on ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us,’ and we spent a lot of time together designing these suspenseful setpieces, shot for shot… For me, this is all I’ve ever dreamed of doing since I was a little kid, so I was like a little kid in a candy store, playing with demons and special effects.”
In an age where horror films are becoming gorier to please increasingly jaded viewers, Dec set out to create a fun, PG-13 scary movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. He revealed how he found inspiration in “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and other films from his youth that had a “kitschy, throwback, let’s have some fun with it vibe”
“Our intention was to always make a fun movie that teenagers could go to,” he explained. “I’m not a big gore person. I’m not a fan of the torture porn horror where people’s arms get ripped off and stuff like that. I think that’s really gross. So, I’m fine with just having a PG-13 movie and letting it be about the suspense, the thrills and not getting too extreme.”
“Countdown” also has a bit of a feminist vibe, as it was important for Dec to have a solid woman protagonist. “I grew up a big James Cameron fan. I love ‘Alien,’ I love Ripley. I wanted to have my own Ripley one day, a strong female lead who takes the reigns and wins the day against the devil.”
There’s a #MeToo subplot involving Quinn being targeted by her superior, Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli). According to Dec, it wasn’t his original intention to make a statement, neither did he want it to seem like he was exploiting #MeToo.
“Dr. Sullivan was already written and shaped when the Weinstein scandal broke,” he admitted. “We were really nervous. We talked a lot about whether or not we should just abandon it completely. We went back and forth quite a bit, and it just felt right. This character was a monster and he needed to be punished. We were nervous at first, but it found its way back into the movie. It ended up working out right.”
In the end, “Countdown” makes a strong case for being less obsessed with our phones. Was this Dec’s intention? “One-hundred percent. Put your phone down, be present. Spend time with the people who matter, because you just never know how much time you or they have.”
When asked, if given the option would he want to know how much longer he had left to live, Dec replied, “Absolutely not. Ignorance is bliss.”
“Countdown” opens Oct. 25 nationwide.