If you ask me, the found footage genre is just about out of steam. Sure, Chronicle was an inventive and twisted roll of the dice, taking the format out of a horror motif and plunking it into the world of Superheroes, but since then, it has seemed like it’s just back to the drawing board. With that said, Project Almanac has always seemed like a step in the right direction, once again taking found footage into the realm of sci-fi to explore the possibilities of what would happen if a bunch of those damn millennials got their hands on the ability to kill Hitler. However, I certainly wasn’t putting too much faith in it, as any production from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes has the potential to go horribly wrong, and since the release was bumped up almost a year (much like another film we’ll be talking about soon enough…) it seemed even they didn’t really know what to do with it.
As the camera beeps on, we find young inventor David Raskin (Jonny Weston) testing out a motion sensing hover-drone experiment in order to get into MIT. Depressed about his lack of scholarship money, he and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) start searching through the attic, and find their long lost father’s old video camera, that has footage of David’s seventh birthday, with adult him standing in the background. Shocked and confused, David and his friends begin to investigate this, and in the basement of his house, come across schematics for a time machine. They become obsessed with constructing the device, and once it works, the kids set off on a wild journey to make the rest of their high school lives as breezy as possible.
Right off the bat, what makes this movie work is the interactions between the kids. All of them are wonderfully charismatic, especially Weston, who exudes a reserved charm without going overboard, and what they have to say is genuinely funny and feels authentic. Much like Chronicle, they don’t seem to take their newfound powers so seriously at first, and watching them use time travel to get back at school bullies, or nail chemistry reports is a great deal of fun. While the movie does pander to it’s teen demographic in some ways, these guys do a great job of carrying us through this world, and making us care about it, and them, partially thanks to this charisma, and also thanks to a fantastic first act that immerses us in the scientific process (nonsensical as it is) and camaraderie involved with building a time machine in your basement.
The tone also strikes a nice balance between the silly antics our paradox creating friends get into, with the darker implications of creating so many different timelines with even more ripple effects. The stakes here really do get high by the end, and even when we start to loose track of just who the hell is holding the camera, or just how many versions of these characters would be running around in a particular scene, it never overly distracts because it feels genuine and organic to the story. It helps that director Dean Israelite has a fairly deft hand at this kind of photography, ensuring things never devolve too much into the blurry streams of light and color that many found footage movies ultimately become.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is a silly, silly movie. There are so many rules that the movie sets for itself that it just breaks whenever it’s convenient for a cool or funny scene, and while we’re certainly very much with these kids until the end, that ending is just a bit of a cop-out. It’s also worth mentioning that although I’ve only used the phrase “much like Chronicle” once so far, that pretty much could be the entire review, as the story is extremely derivative of that film to a fault. It’s not quite a rip off, but it’s pretty damn close.
This is the kind of movie that makes it hard to think like that too much though. It’s a loose, fast paced off switch for your brain that provides just enough quality to balance out it’s stupidity. It certainly isn’t going to be remembered as one of the all time greats of the found footage genre, but it’s also not going to be something that many people switch away from if it’s on cable. There are plenty of time travel movies with depth, so just enjoy this one for the bag of M&Ms that it is.