We live and die by our phones. Nothing beyond the borders of our screens can compete with the endless parade of streaming, gaming, and social media apps. Feeling blue? There’s a click for that. Get lost in the glow conveniently contained in the center of your hand, and what you find there often steers your future. The concern occurs when you consider whether this technological relationship is symbiotic or parasitic. When you pull your eyes from its face, do you feel more whole or a greater hollow?
Countdown builds its horrors on our increasing distrust of these time-suck voids in our pockets. We know these phones consist of hells upon hells, but we can’t give them up. Our only hope to sever the link is if our existence depended on such drastic disconnection. Justin Dec‘s feature debut imagines an app with the capability to predict your demise to the very minute — nay, the exact second. When Elizabeth Lail foolishly jumps on the latest trend, she begins to suspect a far sinister force at work, possibly a creature less interested in forecasting a person’s demise and more eager to cause that end.
Dec is a movie freak like the rest of us. He grew up consuming and processing as much cinematic nourishment as his mind and body could handle. Naturally, we want to splay all that out on the examination table. We asked the filmmaker to share the One Perfect Shots that inspired the level of terror he was working toward in Countdown. They are stone-cold classics, and while a few may surprise you on the surface, further exploration marks their placement here impeccable.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by Bill Butler
“The movie that made me want to make movies. This scene is etched in my brain. The practical shark rising out of the water after being teased only in glimpses. Now we know what our heroes are really up against. They’re definitely gonna need a bigger boat.”
Directed by John Carpenter
Cinematography by Dean Cundey
“I grew up in a small Massachusetts town very much like Haddonfield. Laurie Strode’s street looked and felt just like my own. That’s part of why Halloween left such an impact on me. It’s the stillness of Michael Myers that got me. His silhouette watching, patiently waiting like death itself. Suddenly the suburbs I was growing up in weren’t as safe as I thought they were.”
The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Cinematography by John Alcott
“The symmetry. The smooth Steadicam following Danny Torrance like a specter. And as he comes around the corner there they are. Bloody images of how the girls came to be ghosts flash before Danny’s eyes. This is horror at its finest.”
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti
“As a kid who watched movies in my basement obsessively, this image of Carol Anne really struck a chord. TV was supposed to be a safe place to escape, not our enemy. The magical Amblin tone that Spielberg had gifted us throughout our childhoods had suddenly been turned against us. Technology could now be a conduit for evil. ‘They’re here.’ indeed.”
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Cinematography by László Kovács
“The audience sees it before Dana does. Light emanates through the cracks. Hands push against the door, almost piercing through it from another dimension and the best part is that it’s all practical. I love this image so much that I recreated the effect (on a much smaller scale) for the short film that inspired Countdown.”
Directed by James Cameron
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
“Another movie that made me want to make movies. We know Newt’s not alone, but we don’t know where it will come from. And then the audience sees it before she does, rising behind her from the murky water, backlit and dripping. Newt screams! Ripley kicks through the grate but she’s too late. Now that’s how you raise the stakes in a movie!”
Countdown opens in theaters everywhere on Friday.