Oh time travel movies. I know you think you’re so cool with your awesome concepts of space and time and your wacky universe-destroying adventures but alas, you’re a dime a dozen. There have been a few key films that have truly captured the magic of this sub-genre and yet, despite numerous failures, film makers keep producing these car-wrecks in an attempt to be the latest and greatest. This entry sure is the latest, but the greatest? Not so much.
Let’s take a look at Project Almanac.
Project Almanac follows brilliant young teen David as he discovers and, with the help of his friends and his sister, builds a time machine his father designed. However, as the friends try out the typical shenanigans of winning the lottery, passing the exam, and going to exclusive and expensive concerts, David finds that as he tries to fix mistakes he’s made, he hurts, kills, and even destroys from existence the people he cares about most. He must then find a way to go far enough back in time in order to fix everything and keep himself from making the biggest, deadliest mistake of his life.
I will give the plot credit that when it actually gives the other characters side stories, it has the events of those stories actually impact the characters’ actions. David’s sister Christina becomes more outgoing and confident after confronting her bully, comic relief character Quinn becomes a braggart terrified of losing his newfound popularity after winning the lottery, etc. This makes it seem as though the characters are actually being affected by their choices and not just going on random, meaningless adventures. The timeline is also pretty easy to follow and the dialogue leaves little ambiguous about what’s going on.
This film is yet another in a long line of found footage films, which is a style which I have always felt is super risky. Most found footage films don’t live up to their potential and typically overuse the gimmick. Project Almanac does parts in found footage and parts than do not, which can be a bit confusing in terms of framing. After all, the only way this story exists is when David and his sister rediscover it on a camera so how is that the audience is supposed to see the untaped events? Or is there no framing device whatsoever and we’re just to except the film includes found footage as part of the narrative? It’s not a huge issue while you are watching the film, but it does present some continuity questions.
Discussing cinematography in a found footage film is a bit of a balancing act. On the one hand, the film is supposed to look gritty and home-made and on the other hand, it has to look polished. Because this film shifts between found footage and regular filming, it makes this even more difficult to discuss. Essentially, it looks good. The special effects are limited and don’t look too cheesy and the frame composition looks nice (especially for a found footage film).
In terms of the acting, I was not actually familiar with most of the actors in the film, though in doing research it turns out many of them are successful TV actors. That being said, the overall performances are very solid. Jonny Raskin’s David is the typical sweet nerd who is more attractive than he realizes, i.e. the leader of the group, comes off as annoying determined but also genuinely trying. Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista, David’s friends Quinn and Adam respectively, are in fact not just carbon copies of each other and do work well off each other when creating the machine. The only performance I was not impressed by was Sofia Black D’Elia’s turn as Jessie, David’s love interest turned girlfriend, as she does overdo the whole dream girl schtick that writers seemed so keen on having.
All in all, Project Almanac is just another marginally decent time-travel film that does nothing new or interesting with the concept but does manage to have a lot of fun with its characters. It’s not what I would call an outright failure, but it’s not something I feel the need to ever watch or even reference again. If you’re looking for something to put your must-see sci-fi list, I’d say look elsewhere for your time-traveling fix.
– Good acting.
– Fair cinematography.
– Good characters.
– Framing device is confusing.
– Does nothing interesting with concept.