Moments into On the Count of Three, you might utter the words, “Oh *insert any four-letter word*.” Going from first to fifth gear in seconds, things start off very, very bleak in Jerrod Carmichael’s feature directorial debut. You might think you know where this story will end once the opening scene concludes. However, it’s more than just two best friends making a suicide pact. Despite its outright bleakness from the start, On the Count of Three is a startling dark comedy about the struggles of two young men that will have you thinking long after the film ends.
On the Count of Three tells the story of two best friends, Kevin (Christopher Abbott) and Val (Jerrod Carmichael), spending one last day together before they kill each other via a suicide pact. Kevin has been in and out of psychiatrist offices and institutions all his life while Val is not happy with his life or job. Despite these characters going through struggles that many Americans face daily, their friendship seemingly has made it work until now. Kevin and Val go all over town to wrap up some things before the end of the day. The events that transpire are mostly dark, but they are not without some surprisingly funny moments.
Carmichael shows promise as a director in this dark comedy, thanks to balancing the tone and the subject matter being centered around depression. We’ve seen Carmichael in front of the camera in years past, but you can sense his skills behind the camera are on the verge of blossoming into something huge, considering where this film goes. In the hands of someone else with a similar career background, this could have gone off the rails or had viewers turning it off only minutes into the film. Carmichael, in front of the camera, is great, per usual, but it’s his on-screen chemistry with co-star Christopher Abbott that’s superb. Rounding out the cast are Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, and Henry Winkler, who are in very minor, but meaningful, roles that move the story along.
While the film is a little bumpy here and there, it keeps things tight through its 75-minute runtime and delivers an ending you might not expect. And on top of that, it will have you discussing several topics afterwards, most likely depression and mental health. For example, the character of Kevin has an outburst about how state institutions have failed him. What does this say about these facilities and their efforts to help those who clearly need it most? I found myself asking questions like this one in the hours after viewing the film, and I hope it does the same thing for others as well. Films that continue the conversation long after viewing them are the ones that have a lasting impact or leave an impression on me. And for On the Count of Three, there is a lot more to take away besides hearing songs from both Travis Tritt and Papa Roach in the same film.