Words: Daniel Provan
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to like Project Almanac one bit. I really don’t like found footage movies and a Michael Bay producer credit isn’t exactly what you’d call a seal of quality these days. So I was actually pleasantly surprised when I came out of the cinema having enjoyed Dean Israelite’s found footage teen time-travel adventure. That’s not to say the film isn’t without flaws, however. For every element of Project Almanac that’s fun or engaging, there’s another element that is equally as frustrating and detracts from the experience.
The plot of the movie revolves around a group of teenagers discovering the plans for a time machine in the basement of David Raskin (Jonny Weston) – our protagonist and resident genius. With the help of his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David manages to build a working model of the time machine and what follows is a series of tests and trials in time travel, which are all filmed by David’s cheerful sister Christina (Virginia Gardner). The way these characters use their time machine is not only compelling, for the most part, it’s also very intelligent. The group begins with small jumps back in time – an hour, a day, a week – to determine the rules of time travel and once they have a firm grasp of what they’re capable of, the film really shines.
Thanks to strong character writing, David, and his group are the exact image of impulsive and emotional teenagers who really just want to have fun. While the characters don’t exactly have any depth to them, their motivations, and smart decision-making make them perfectly relatable. Thanks to the strong character setup and excellent performances (Jonny Weston is a standout),watching the group use time travel to do teenager-y stuff, like correct their marks at school and win lotto, is humorous and charming and really highlights the potential Project Almanac had. Once David’s love interest Jessie (played by Sofia Black-D’Elia) complicates matters about three-quarters through the movie though, things start to fall apart.
The last act of the film, unfortunately, descends into teen romance clichés and undoes a lot of the solid character work the film built up. David starts making uncharacteristic decisions, the fun of time travel is traded for less interesting drama and the rules the movie establishes about time travel are broken in confusing and untrackable cause and effect scenarios, which the film ignores completely. Perhaps the most frustrating thing, however, is the underuse of the most significant element of time travel the movie establishes: if your future self and past self meet, you are erased from existence. This key element, which could have been used for interesting dramatic purposes throughout the film, is used only once to set in motion a climax that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t make much sense; really letting the film down.
Another frustration I had with the film was the use of the found footage conceit. Granted, the editing and cinematography are probably the best and least obnoxious of any found footage movie I’ve seen and the film does some interesting visual effects with the camera work that are stunning to watch. However, plot-wise there is absolutely no reason the entire movie had to be made in found footage-style and some of the camera placements in the movie don’t make sense. I feel as though shooting the movie normally would have highlighted the great special effects even more and provided a production value that could have showcased the full potential of Project Almanac.
Despite the frustrations of the third act taking away a lot of the enjoyment from Project Almanac, I ultimately had a lot of fun with this teenage time-travel adventure. Whilst the movie doesn’t break any new ground in the sci-fi or found footage genres, it is refreshing to see well-intentioned characters make smart decisions – backed by smart performances – as well as quality special effects in a relatively low-budget movie. If you’re looking to watch something short and fun, I would definitely recommend Project Almanac.