Better Than You Thought? Countdown (2019)
Countdown: A literal Time’s Up movie
Written by Sarah Dobbs
When Wes Craven’s Scream made the explicit naming of horror movie ‘rules’ into an integral part of its plot, it could’ve killed off a lot of the clichés – the idea of the Final Girl, the innocent young babysitter type who gets stalked by a man with a knife, seemed particularly vulnerable. But if there’s one thing we know about Final Girls, it’s that they can survive anything. The character type hasn’t gone away: she’s just evolved.
Last year’s unfairly maligned mobile app horror Countdown gave us a brilliant example of how the new breed of Final Girl deals with villains. (If you missed it, a quick synopsis: a young nurse downloads a mobile phone app that claims to know when she’s going to die, then summons a demon by trying to subvert her fate; to survive, she needs to find a loophole in the devil’s terms and conditions.) At first glance, Countdown’s Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) looks just like any other heroine in peril: she’s a nurse, she’s lost her mother, she’s got a younger sister she feels protective of, and she’s single. There are lots of vulnerabilities there to be preyed on, and also lots of pretty obvious virtues. She’s likeable, in other words; she’s someone we can feel comfortable rooting for.
But Quinn doesn’t get her Final Girl badge just for participating, and she doesn’t survive just because she’s nice enough to deserve a break from the narrative gods. She fights. And she fights dirty. Because as well as dealing with the whole phone demon thing, Quinn is also dealing with a sexual harassment case at work, as sleazy Dr Sullivan (Peter Facinelli) claims she acted inappropriately towards him rather than vice versa. So when she discovers, thanks to a friendly priest, that breaking the curse requires proving the app’s predictions fallible, she almost immediately comes up with a plan. Keeping someone alive longer than their timer suggests is too difficult – it’s easier to kill someone before their time. Cue Quinn luring her abuser into an abandoned wing of the hospital, planning to make sure his #TimesUp once and for all.
Final Girls have attempted to kill before, but they usually only lash out in self-defence. For one of them to calmly and rationally plan to kill someone – someone terrible, admittedly, but not a murderer – to save herself is a serious violation of the Final Girl Code.
Spoiler alert: she doesn’t actually kill him, and ends up coming up with a much nobler way of thwarting the demon, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
It’s hard to imagine this scenario playing out in a slasher film from a previous decade. Quinn is a reflection of her time, a quick-witted, endlessly capable product of the #MeToo movement who won’t be silenced, who draws strength from her connections with other women, and who isn’t afraid to take matters into her own hands. When she faces down her abuser, we’re not just cheering her on because she represents good in a fight against the shadowy forces of evil – it’s because she’s taking on a very real, very human evil.
She might not actually kill Sullivan, but by the end of the movie he’s got his comeuppance, and Quinn’s future looks bright. Ironically, her future might even be brighter due to this film’s lack of acclaim, because if there’s no sequel, we can all choose to believe she lives happily ever after.