I don’t think I could even begin to attempt to explain how the time travel is supposed to work in director Dean Israelite‘s Project Almanac, but it’s not as if it matters. A group of teenagers stumble on blueprints telling them how to make a time machine, they make it, use it to get rich, popular and to party at Lollapalooza. What’s not to understand about that? Of course, when things begin to go wrong, and one of them attempts to fix things on his own, it’s no longer fun and games. Yes, the butterfly effects is in full… ahem… effect.
Told using the found footage style of filmmaking, Project Almanac is never going to come together logically, but that doesn’t stop it from being a harmless little time travel feature that does tend to wear thin and overstay its welcome once things begin to fall apart for the group of five teens. The operative word here is “teens” as everything that takes place in this film is guided by the teen experience, which makes it hard for a thinking adult to take seriously, try as we might.
It’s not as if Project Almanac is a bad experience, it’s simply a teen experience. It’s caught up in high school angst, the want to kiss the unattainable girl that is suddenly attainable, the wish to get rich, to have fun and then, of course, the drama of a dead parent. In fact, I rather enjoyed Israelite’s initial approach to Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan‘s script, but each and every found footage movie continues to fall into the same logical traps as those before it nd no, including a character saying, “Man, you guys film everything,” doesn’t really solve matters.
That being said, what Project Almanac is able to capture about the high school experience rings true, even if it is annoying to someone who isn’t still in high school. The best thing going for this film is the cast, all of which are well suited for their roles. Jonny Weston plays David, the smart kid trying to get into M.I.T., Virginia Gardner plays his camera-loving sister (and a bit of a cling-on), Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista are David’s geeky best friends and then there’s Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie, the typical “hot” girl whom David has a crush on and is coincidentally wrangled into their circle as David’s inevitable love interest. Each brings a specific, and believable, personality, even Black-De’Elia who could have played Jessie as some sultry, high school vixen but instead plays it perfectly straight, innocent and, more or less, a typical high school teen.
After a rather lengthy build-up to the creation of the time machine, the second act is a whirlwind montage of this, that and the other thing as our five leads win the lottery and take advantage of their time traveling capabilities to better their high school experience. And it makes logical sense as they fear the boundaries of just how far back in time they can actually go. Of course, once those boundaries get stretched even further is where the film finds its tension… because I guess the trials and tribulations of high school weren’t enough?
This is where Project Almanac runs into trouble. The tension seems so made up. At the beginning of the film the tension revolves around how David is going to come up with the money necessary to attend M.I.T. but that takes a back seat to a dead dad, getting the girl and the whole idea of time travel in general. The attempt to make the story bigger than it needed to be ultimately squanders what could have been, especially when they had a solid cast to bring it all together.
There’s a cute little epilogue to the film that hints at future adventures, but it would have been just as great had it ended with David asleep in bed after a breathless climax to a voice from the hallway saying, “David, get up, you’ll be late for school!” and David bolting upright, wiping the sleep from his eyes saying, “Dad?”