The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Project Almanac</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Project Almanac

A teenage science whiz discovers his dead father's time machine.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dean Israelite

Starring: Jonny Weston, Amy Landecker, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Virginia Gardner, Allen Evangelista, Sam Lerner

For a while there it seemed every week I was forced to trot out the same complaints about the latest movie to employ a found footage facade, but it must be a good six months since I last grumbled about a film employing this aesthetic for no other reason than a gimmick. It's a style of filmmaking initially embraced by low budget filmmakers for obvious reasons, allowing them to put out an amateurish piece of work, intentional or not, but ironically, indie filmmakers now appear to have finally moved on from found footage. Hollywood, on the other hand, seems determined to flog this particular equine corpse. On the heels of Into the Storm, a movie that failed to justify its found footage aesthetic, and suffered considerably from it, comes Project Almanac, a movie that fails to justify its found footage aesthetic, and suffers considerably from it.
Originally titled Welcome to Yesterday (the name change presumably prompted by the box office failure of Edge of Tomorrow), Project Almanac introduces us to high school science whizkid David (Weston), whose initial glow at being accepted into MIT on a scholarship is dimmed when he discovers his mother (Landecker) is forced to sell the family home to fund his tuition. While exploring the attic with his sister Christina (Gardner), who rather creepily insists on filming her brother's every movement, David finds a video camera that once belonged to his father, killed in a car crash 10 years prior. Examining the camera's tape, David discovers footage of his seventh birthday party, held the day his father died. To his shock, he spots his own reflection in a mirror - not his seven year old reflection, but that of his current 17 year old self. Enlisting his school chums, David explores his father's previously off limits basement workshop and discovers his old man had invented no less than a time machine, one which David and company set about resurrecting.
It takes so long for Dean Israelite's film to grab hold of anything approaching a story that by the 30 minute mark you'll be wishing you could time travel yourself and skip ahead to Project Almanac's climax or travel back prior to your ticket purchase. The first act, in which our heroes assemble the time machine, drags on for an age and resembles the sort of 'shed porn' that fills the schedules of the more obscure Discovery Channel spin-off channels. When the time travelling antics finally arrive, too much time is spent on the sort of filler that could have easily been dispensed in a couple of montages. A trip back to a past edition of a Lollapalooza concert is given a ridiculous amount of time, presumably to promote some acts that happen to be signed to a label owned by this film's studio, and a large chunk of the film's second act feels like watching your teenage nephew's gap year video diary.
It's no surprise to find Project Almanac fails to justify its found footage fittings, and once again we have a movie whose story is smothered by this aesthetic decision. The major stumbling block of the first person narrative is that we only see what the movie's protagonists see (the first Paranormal Activity's static bedroom-cam the clever exception to this rule) and thus the movie is devoid of suspense. As such, we never get the sense that Project Almanac's characters are in any sort of trouble until they tell us they are. Once again, found footage has forced a screenwriter into making some embarrassingly crude storytelling choices.
If Project Almanac has one saving grace, then it has to be its charismatic young cast. Despite being forced to portray stereotypes - the square-jawed WASPy hero, his geeky Jewish and Asian sidekicks, and the dumb blond who is there simply to ask questions on behalf of an audience that doesn't really care in the first place - we warm to them quickly, and if the film gave its protagonists an identifiable plight, we'd actually be invested in it.
The oddest thing about Project Almanac is how it casts Virginia Gardner - a buxom, pretty blond - as a dumb blond caricature, only to place her behind the camera for most of the film's running time. Somewhere Roger Corman is quietly disapproving.