I want to take a moment before this review to give a trigger warning. This film deals with suicide and some other dark themes, therefore there will be some discussion of this in this review. If you’re not in the right headspace to read about such themes, let alone watch a film about it, please don’t read any further. Take care of yourself.
On the Count of Three begins with the titular countdown. It becomes very clear, very quickly that we’ve been thrown into the deep end, a double suicide about to happen. The count begins, cut to title and a gun goes off. This suicide pact is the central agreement around which comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael’s debut narrative feature is centred. What follows is a darkly humorous exploration of mental health, life and what we live for. Often confronting and at times hilarious, the film brings a lot of humanity to a dark day.
On the Count of Three follows best friends Val (played by director Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott), who, after breaking Kevin out of a psychiatric hospital, in which he had tried to kill himself three days prior, decide to kill themselves in the alleyway of a strip club. Val has recently broken up with his girlfriend, and that morning quit his job after trying to kill himself in the toilet stalls at work. However, when Kevin stops the double suicide to have one last day to do whatever they want, the duo head on out to confront their demons.
The film’s tonal balancing act is deft and impressive, the black comedy never undercuts it’s all too real and more serious side, and vice versa. In this way, the film has a fundamental humanity to it, as the best dramadies do. The script by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, as well as Carmichael’s delicate directorial hand, make it sing as it swings from the darkest moments to the lightest. One moment can be tense and unnerving as we watch these two suicidal men about to wave guns about, the next Kevin is spouting off about the irony of being an anti-gun guy. It elegantly leaps between tones, as Katcher, Welch and Carmichael understand how humanity contains multitudes and how to make that function in the cinematic space. In this regard, the film is a bizarre, nihilistic blast, of course there’s a very serious edge to it, but it’s often extremely funny, and bleakly fun.
However, there’s something to the film that left me wanting. The film is dealing with some very serious, very human themes, but ultimately feels somewhat aimless in its exploration of them. The duality of these two men dealing with their mental health issues, one who has been in and out of various psychiatric offices for the majority of his life who feels there’s no other way to go, the other who feels stuck in his mundanity and aimlessness, is a perfect point for exploration, however as the film draws to a close, while their arcs both feel complete, there’s something that feels thematically lost within them, like Carmichael, Katcher and Welsh are unsure of what they are trying to say in telling this story, especially with the diverging of interests of the lead characters. It results in something that feels narratively satisfying, but ultimately lacks real punch.
On the Count of Three is a rather great directorial debut for Carmichael, it’s an entertaining and impressively grounded look into mental health. Even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it has much to say about mental illness, the film brings light to some dark places and Carmichael finds a deeply humanistic way to portray the internal struggle with suicidal thoughts and aimlessness. It’s imperfect and lacks a thematic punch, but it is a well-crafted, extremely well-acted (Carmichael and Abbott are impeccable presences) and emotional film overall, filled with humanity. A great and promising first outing for Carmichael in the director’s chair.
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