“Before the world ends, I’d like to time travel.”
Dean Israelite’s feature film debut, Project Almanac, is a time traveling sci-fi found footage movie centering on a group of nerdy teens who discover blueprints for a time machine and decide to try and build one. The problem I have with found footage films isn’t necessarily the shaky camera, but the lack of commitment to fully relying on the found footage. There are scenes where these friends are together and supposedly everything is filmed by one of them, but during the middle of a conversation we see different edits and cuts. There are other moments where they are zooming in on two characters having a normal conversation with each other from a distance and the audio is perfect. These are minor issues perhaps, but it defeats the purpose of trying to make a film like this. Project Almanac also borrows very heavily from other time traveling films and there are even some references to Back to the Future and such films. There are always several paradoxes when it comes to time traveling and I’ve decided not to try to think too much about these issues and enjoy the film for what it’s trying to do. Despite the flaws in the script, I had a decent time and enjoyed where the story was going. Ultimately it may feel too similar to recent time traveling films like The Butterfly Effect, but using the found footage format did make it more intimate. I do think however that Chronicle does a better job at establishing and using the found footage format to enhance the story in a similar themed movie to this one in which a group of young teenagers use a newly discovered power to enhance their social lives. Project Almanac reminded me a lot of other movies, but it’s never able to fully stand on its own.
Project Almanac, which was co-written by Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, begins by introducing us to David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a teenage nerd who is filming his scientific project in order to impress the Admissions office at MIT. His sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner) is responsible for filming the experiment, and his two best friends, Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), are there supporting him. A few days later he receives a response from the University accepting him for the next semester, but unfortunately he doesn’t get a full scholarship. His mom (Amy Landecker) decides to put the house for sale in order to help fund her son’s dream, but he doesn’t want her to make that kind of sacrifice. So one day while looking over his deceased father’s scientific notes he finds his old video camera. There is a tape of his seventh birthday party and he finds an image of his 17 year old self reflected on a mirror in the room. This can only mean one thing: He has travelled to the past. He tells his friends about the tape and together they begin to search his father’s lab. They find blueprints for a time machine and begin working on building one convinced that they will be able to do so because of the tape. With the help of the school hottie, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), who allows them to use her car, they end up successfully making the time machine work. That is where the fun begins as they use it for their personal gain (winning the lottery, improving heir test scores, getting stage passes for concerts, and so on), but they will soon discover that each action has its own ripple effect and things begin to get complicated from then on.
The characters in this film aren’t fully developed and there is so much they can do with the found footage format which limits them. Jonny Weston is the lead here and he is perhaps better known for his role in Chasing Mavericks. He gives as much of a convincing performance of that of a 26 year old can playing a 17 year old. There is a romantic sub plot involving him and Jessie that is never fully explored but serves to carry the story forward. The supporting turns from Lerner and Evangelista are mostly used for comedic purposes. They are the school nobodies who end up enjoying their new found fame once they begin traveling back in time. It’s Landecker’s character who suffers the most considering she barely gets any screen time and is always the one filming. The female characters aren’t given much to do here either. The film takes its time to set the premise, and once it does there are some very entertaining moments, but they feel recycled from other better movies.