After 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2007’s wildly successful Paranormal Activity, followed by 2008’s Cloverfield, found-footage style filmmaking has become a growing trend in movies. Time-travel has also become a huge topic among movies in recent years. Rian Johnson’s incredible Looper was one of the best of 2012, with the romantic About Time following in 2013, and even Ethan Hawke starring as a time traveler in Predestination, which was released earlier this month.
First-time feature filmmaker Dean Israelite pairs found-footage with time travel and what we get is a story about a lot of dumb teenagers that’s not completely original in its first half but does pick up the pace in the last 30 minutes or so.
In a found-footage camera style, Project Almanac follows David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a high school teen who excels in science and dreams of attending MIT after graduation. When David, his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), and their two friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) discover a time machine amongst David’s late father’s belongings, they gather parts to build the machine and make it work.
During one of their first experiments, David’s long-time crush Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) accidentally walks in on the experiment, therefore becoming a part of their secret too. After the teens realize the machine actually works and they can travel back in time, they test to see just how far they can go. But when David starts jumping alone, time-travel paths begin to cross and danger ensues.
The main problem with Project Almanac—very similar to 2012’s Project X, another found-footage high school story about a wild party—is that the story isn’t very original, and the pacing of the beginning is extremely slow. The characters are stupidly irresponsible and only use time-travel as a means to party, win the lottery, and buy materialistic things, so it’s hard to like them or root for them.
Our lead actor Jonny Weston is natural in front of the camera, whereas the other supporting actors felt like they were overacting and just plain overdramatic. Produced by Michael Bay, Project Almanac does have a few scenes where the special effects look amazing, and when the director uses slow motion to capture some of the time-travel sequences, it does pay off.
There are certainly several plot holes and story lines that don’t quite add up, but the film does pick up in the last 30 minutes. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to improve on the first part of the movie.
Project Almanac is a film that could have been original and exciting, but the characters aren’t particularly fun to watch, and the story is something we’ve all seen before.