Found-footage movies just need to die. Not next year, not tomorrow. Now. The gimmick isn’t not fooling anyone anymore and hasn’t for a long time, and any perceived benefits are heavily outweighed by the forced and nonsensical execution, the vomit-inducing shakiness and the way it cheapens the overall feel.
And so it’s not hard to guess that I think the found-footage approach ruins Project Almanac, an otherwise barely-passable teen travel movie. There are some interesting ideas early on, though when you break it down it’s really a fairly pedestrian effort that doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in the genre.
Directed by Dean Israelite, who has reportedly been selected for the new Power Rangers reboot, Project Almanac tells the story of high school inventor David (Jonny Weston), who discovers the blueprint to build a time machine in his basement left behind by his late father. After some trial and error, David and his sister (Virginia Gardner), his friends (Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner), and the girl he pine after (Sofia Black D’Elia) start using the machine to go back in time and fulfill their dreams.
The best way to describe Project Almanac is a mix between Chronicle and The Butterfly Effect. The film wants to capture the slick style of Chronicle with the found-footage approach and the change the teen characters go through as they struggle to deal with the inheritance of a grew power (and thus responsibility). It also takes, quite directly, the time-travel concept of The Butterfly Effect in that every decision we make creates ripples we might not expect.
All that is fine; there are almost no truly original films these days anyway. The problems with Project Almanac have more to do with the script and the execution. I don’t need to discuss how annoying the found-footage thing is again. It doesn’t add to the realism and is a complete distraction. It just makes no sense why they would film some of the scenes that exist in the movie.
Secondly, the film wastes far too much time testing the time machine. It’s pretty obvious they’ll eventually get it to work, or else that would make one very lame movie, so what’s the point of showing us failure after failure — other than padding time and showing off special effects?
Thirdly, the film gets bogged down by a toothless and predictable romance. It’s embarrassing that something so boring and cringeworthy could end up being such a pivotal device in the film, and what makes it worse is that the human reactions to it make zero sense, especially for people who are supposed to be intelligent.
Fourthly, there are some obvious logic gaps in the time travel concept that are never explained. Time travel movies usually involve actually changing the past and thus changing the future, or finding out that time is a loop you may think you are changing but can’t. Project Almanac inexplicably adopts both.
The one thing I will give the film credit for is the way it depicts that exhilaration of discovering you have he ability to change the past, and how the characters first decide to take advantage of this power. Think about what you might do if you were an American teenager, and it’s probably not that far off. I found this part of the film, at least at the start of it, rather satisfying, and it’s a shame the plot later descended down the wrong path.
Project Almanac is not without its moments, but on the whole there are just too many flaws that bring it down, with the annoying found footage gimmick being arguably the biggest culprit.
2 stars out of 5