Countdown makes the deadliest mistake I can imagine a film making: it openly rips off a movie that's already quite famous with its target audience, and proceeds to to an objectively, obviously worse job of the material the two have in common. In this case, it's basically just a smartphone update to Final Destination: if you figure out how to cheat Death, Death gets pissed off and makes you suffer a bit before killing you anyway. The difference being that in Final Destination and its sequels, Death gets its revenge through the form of inordinately complicated Rube Goldberg death traps. In Countdown, Death - or rather, the irritated demon whose curse has been thwarted, but it amounts to the same thing - just uses telekinesis to throw its victims against the wall a few times until they die. It's crudely uninteresting, the kind of horror film that demonstrates nothing but contempt for horror fans inassuming that it's the mere fact of killing off an ensemble of boring assholes that we find appealing, not the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the kills. Meanwhile, it has all the usual horror movie problems: lousy characters with clunky motivations and arbitrary, disconnected plot connections. And these are amplified by the total absence of any legitimate genre pleasures.

The film opens with a rather odd fake-out that immediately lets us know that we're not in for a particularly inspiring time at the movies. We arrive at a high school party, where a bunch of teenagers are behaving according to their natural traditions: they're comparing apps on their phones. One of them mentions a new one, "Countdown", that consists simply of a series of two digit numbers ticking down the number of years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the phone's owner is going to die. It's all fun and games (suggesting, among other things, that our partygoers have an unreasonably low threshold for "fun") until one girl, Courtney (Anne Winters) gets the disturbing news that she has only a couple of hours left on her countdown. Everyone else sensibly laughs this off as the bad luck of the draw on an idiotic random number generator, but it's enough to knock her for a loop, and when the time comes to ride home with her intoxicated boyfriend Evan (Dillon Lane), she takes it as a sign that she should walk instead. No sooner does she make that choice than the app angrily buzzes with a pop-up message that she's violated the user agreement. And once the counter reaches zero, an unseen force picks her up and dashes her neck-first against the edge of her bathtub snapping her spine - at exactly the moment that Evan drives his car into a tree, with a branch plunging right through the seat where she would have been.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. The dark augur of what a limited, miserable experience Countdown is to be comes much earlier even than the pointlessly dumb death scene in which the ghost of the app can't even be bothered to indulge in a decent gore effect while offing Courtney (it's been some long time since I last saw a horror movie that suffers so thoroughly from a PG-13 rating). It's in the blocking and staging of the party conversation. Filmmaking, after all, is more than anything else the art of guiding the viewer's attention, and I thought for sure I knew where first-time feature director-writer Justin Dec (making the big jump from YouTube comedy videos and advertisements) was guiding mine: towards one of the teen girls who downloaded the app before Courtney. The way she was positioned in the frame, the amount of screentime she got compared to the other characters; yep, it was pretty clear this was our Final Girl. Hell, even Courtney doesn't get as much visual attention until she sees her countdown timer. Thing is, you'll note that I haven't named this girl, because I didn't catch it, because she'll never show up in the movie again. So by the end of the first scene, the movie has already demonstrated an incapacity for dealing with one of the most fundamental of all fundamentals. This does not, as you might suppose, suggest much confidence.

The actual protagonist is Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), a newly-minted-as-of-today RN at the hospital where the badly-wounded Evan is rushed. He's freaking out himself; Countdown gave him another twelve hours or so beyond Courtney, which suggests to him that he's got only until they get him in the operating room to fix up some of his busted bones. Rather than go into the OR, he sneaks into the most obviously safe space in the hospital, an unlit abandoned stairwell, and he has a brief glimpse of a zombified, glowing-eyed reincarnation of Courtney before something tips him over the railing to his death several floors below. This is, for the record, the only actively effective scare sequence in the entirety of the film, and I regret to say that it is in part because of the corny but decently uncanny vision of Courtney that this is so.

Long story short, Quinn downloads Countdown, breaks her plans for the weekend once it tells her she has only about three days to live, and gets the same angry pop-up. Soon thereafter, she crosses paths with Matt (Jordan Calloway), who did all the same things when faced with a similar time frame. They combine forces to fight the whatever it is, bringing in a deadpan phone store technician (Tom Segura, giving the film's best performance by a stunning margin), and a nerdy demon-obsessed priest (P.J. Byrne) to help them figure out what's going on; meanwhile, Quinn has inadvertently gotten her younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) on the app, so now it's a dual race against time; she doesn't much care about her own life, but she's certainly damned if the phone demon is going to steal her kin.

That's a lot of plot summary, and I apologise; but it's much pleasanter than trying to find anything to say about the quality of Countdown, which is squarely at "generic trash horror" level. The idea of a medieval demon using a phone app to work its mischief in a materialistic age is solid enough, but the film can't even extract one full scene from that concept. Otherwise, it's nothing but scene upon scene of Quinn trekking from place to place, learning nothing useful, and making an ass of herself in front of her coworkers. Flimsily tacked onto this is a plot thread about her dealing with sexual harassment from Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli), her supervisor at the hospital; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film until it is crudely and terribly wrenched into service to weakly motivate a false climax.

Worst of all of it, Countdown's small cast means that it doesn't even get to indulge in plenty of kill scenes to help give the go-nowhere story the illusion of momentum. After Evan's tumble down the stairs, it's a good solid 45 minutes before anything scarier than an unreasonably loud push notification happens in the movie. All that we've got to go on during that time is the unengaging behavior of characters who were written without any personalities; even the one thing we know about Quinn, that she's a nurse, only informs the scenes where it's directly necessary to have her puttering around the hospital. By the standards of bad horror cinema this is barely a blip, of course, but as one of the only wide-release horror movies in the last third of 2019, Countdown is an irritating waste of time.