On The Count of Three [Sundance21]

Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three by Jerrod Carmichael, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

There is no way to write about On The Count of Three without getting personal and honest. So, to be warned, trigger warning: suicide and suicidal thoughts.

On The Count of Three is about Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) who make a pact that they’ll end their lives at the end of the day. And so, we follow Val and Kevin on the last day they’re alive. 

The film opens with the image above, Val and Kevin in the alley behind a strip club at 10:30 in the morning, saying on the count of three, they’ll shoot each other. Right as they’re about to say three, we flashback to earlier in the day, Kevin is recovering from a suicide attempt. While he’s talking to a therapist in the institution to assess if he’s okay to go home, Kevin explodes at her. Stating if they lived in his head for one minute, they’d know that all life isn’t precious. Prior to this, he mentions how he feels bad for taking up a room at the institute, even though he had just tried to commit suicide a few days earlier. Even when it’s the worst that it can be, Kevin is still thinking about maybe someone who has it worse, maybe there’s someone who actually needs it. Someone else can still be saved. 

Early on, we find Val in the washroom at his work, he puts his belt around his neck, wraps the other end on the hook in the stall and tries to hang himself. He’ll later tell Kevin that when he found out that his best friend tried to commit suicide, he wasn’t shocked. He felt nothing. Abbott finds the humour to state it’s a rude statement. Here is just part of the incredible humour found in this film.

He and Kevin make up the two sides of the coin, mimicking each other struggling in their day-to-day life. In a rut, unable to move forward. Thinking there’s nothing else left to do, he leaves to see Kevin and take him out, so that they could both take their lives. Back to behind the strip club, they decide that since they should do the things they want to do before their life is over. Cross a few things off the bucket list, and then make themselves to kick the bucket. In the car ride, Kevin sings along to the always incredible Last Resort by Papa Roach. A song that is loud, angry, and sad. There is no subtlety to be found in this anthem for the hurting.

Along their journey, the two find themselves talking to all people from their past, not trying to make amends but to make sure things are okay when they’re gone. There is a very great social commentary about gun control – that is both true, funny and sad. Which is a great indicator and comparison to the film. The things that Abbott says about not wanting to live – it’s specific. It’s not a vague idea of someone’s mind while in the depths of fighting depression, it’s right there surrounded by it. 

This is Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut, and along with Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch (who helped create Ramy), the film finds a wonderful balance of humour and sorrow. Walking the tight rope of being obscene and honesty. Carmichael also shines as Val, giving us a very vulnerable side that showcases unhappiness and being stagnant in life. He is struggling to find his purpose, so he goes to a job he can’t stand. It’s when he’s offered a promotion, he clearly wonders, why am I bothering for this?

These depictions of being stuck in a job, or wondering if there’s a reason to live hits far too close to home. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought about ending my life. Sometimes, as a throwaway line knowing that I wouldn’t follow through, and sometimes planning it out. After a while, I thought to myself how I would do it – knowing I likely never would. As much as I’d like to think it was a teenage angst side of me, who would sing along to Papa Roach and a million other emo bands who talked about ending it, I’d be lying. I went through a very dark place months before we launched this site, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it past it. Somehow I have, and I am content. With myself, with where I find myself. I feel proud to have crawled out of the mindset I was stuck in for so long. I still have those thoughts, but not as common, and I know it always ends up being a momentary thing. Sometimes, we find the peace we’re looking for, and we find the hope and the reason to live. And for some of us, we don’t. I know I was so close to being Kevin once or twice. 

I’m not writing this for sympathy, but to honestly talk about this film and what it did to me, I need to talk about how it made me feel – sad, but hopeful. While writing this, I’ve had to stop to cry. I had to do the same when I watched the film too. I’ll stop crying soon.