Project Almanac (2015)

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Project Almanac would’ve been a more fun ride had the filming not been in the awful found footage style, had the actors been a little less bad at acting, and had their characters been a little less stupid despite at least one of them being an actual genius who built a time machine. There are some entertaining aspects, specifically in the beginning, when the teenagers find the blueprints to build the machine and go through multiple mishaps during their trial-and-error phases of testing it. But eventually, like most time travel films do, it becomes burdened by horrible clichés.

What would you do if you actually built a time machine? One of the kids suggests going back and killing Hitler, another mentions traveling as far back to the age of the dinosaurs. David (Johnny Weston) eventually has plans to travel back ten years to save his father from a car accident. Of course, none of these things are very logical, so they resort to using it for stupid, trivial things–passing tests, retaliating against bullies, winning the lottery (okay, I would probably use it for that too), and going to music festivals. Of course, they have some tweaking to do before they can travel back too far, so that greatly limits their options and capabilities. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for a very interesting movie, especially when they spend a good chunk of it singing and dancing around at an “Imagine Dragons” concert.

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Aside from David, the genius who was recently accepted into MIT, the other characters aren’t very interesting. David’s sister (Virginia Gardner), for example, spends most of the time being the person behind the camera, so we rarely even see her but might hear a female voice now and again adding sarcastic commentary to a situation. David’s love interest, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), also doesn’t have much going on besides her looks. Sam (Quinn Goldberg) is probably the only other character even remotely worth remembering because he’s the goofy kid who says a lot of really stupid things, and the scenes with him trying to pass his test over and over again are admittedly sort of funny.

But I’ve got to say, David, the one you want to rely on for the brain power in the group, is the one making the dumbest decisions. First off, this kid who is smart but not bad looking misses every possible opportunity to move in on his giant crush, Jessie, even though she’s hardly a subtle flirt–“before the world ends, I want to fall in love.” Really? Nope, that’s not a sign, at all. Let’s screw it up and then we can just use the time machine to go back and fix it and in the mean time screw up literally everything. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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I also think the found footage actually made this movie worse than it would’ve been had it been filmed properly. It’s bad enough when you take a potentially good sci-fi and give it a really thin plot line, but it’s even worse to make it into found footage. I don’t get why so many people are comparing this to Chronicle, except for the fact that they both feature teenagers and a shaky camera. This isn’t a movie about kids who find some alien crystal and gain superpowers. Not to mention, none of these actors even come close to the talent Dane DeHaan can bring to the screen. But more importantly, the found footage in Chronicle actually seemed like it fit the story a lot better than it did here, and it was way more realistic as far as sound and everything else. Plus, I can imagine a weird loner kid going around everywhere with a camera, making people feel uncomfortable. But why would a camera be necessary here? It makes sense for some parts, like in the beginning when we see David filming an experiment for his MIT application. But other times, it seems unnecessary. Who just whips out a camera during lunch time and starts filming conversations? And, how can you film people talking 30 feet away and still have perfect sound? No, just stop it.

Things start to get a little bit interesting towards the end again once the kids find themselves totally screwing up everything around them, which is always a factor in time travel movies. I genuinely started to feel bad for David, because Jessie’s pretty face and lack of brains persuaded him to act like an idiot. The ending was a little bit disappointing, and left quite a few plot holes that are hard to ignore, but as usual, plot holes and time travel tend to go hand in hand so there’s no point in dwelling on them. I know that I’ve mostly ripped apart this movie, but in the end, I don’t think that Project Almanac was necessarily agony to watch. It had its entertaining moments, but I think it was definitely wasted potential. Worth a rental, but not a trip to the theater.

2/5

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17 thoughts on “Project Almanac (2015)

  1. Found footage is like anything else. It can be used well or it can be used badly. It’s at a pretty severe disadvantage when compared to other techniques only because (outside of Cloverfield), no one’s used it with anything resembling a real budget with real actors.

    I tend to think found footage produces about as many artistic successes and failures as any other genre film at that budget level.

    Many of its central techniques (shakycam, Snorri-cam) have been assimilated into how we shoot action or excessively personal drama today. Critics may like to turn their nose up at the genre, but it’s absolutely changed the shot grammar of how intense sequences are constructed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point. I’ve only ever seen it utilized in low budget films that are usually hit or miss. It certainly re-created the horror genre–movies like The Blair Witch Project, REC, Paranormal Activity–and they were all fairly successful because of it. Then with Cloverfield and Chronicle it made its way into sci-fi (or sci-fi/horror), where it was well-received. I haven’t thought about it being assimilated into action movies, but you’re right. Gotta love that shakycam haha. I think it sucked here though. There were some scenes when it seemed fitting, but the majority of the movie could’ve been filmed normally and still had the same effect, but without the shakiness and weird angles. I have no problem with it when it’s done right. But in the end, this movie probably still would’ve been mediocre even without it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t seen this yet – I went with A Most Violent Year this weekend – but even the previews make it look like it wants to use POV to emulate shooting a film classically, which just doesn’t work. You have to forego capturing those big, cinematic moments in favor of suggesting them. It’s why found footage has so much trouble with climaxes – how do you shoot a climax while avoiding the key visual moments that tell viewers what’s going on. I’m curious, were there a ton of cuts in this or did they let the long takes run for a bit?

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