12th Jun2015

‘Project Almanac’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jonny Weston, Amy Landecker, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Virginia Gardner, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Gary Weeks | Written by Jason Pagan, Andrew Deutschman | Directed by Dean Israelite

almanac-blu

Despite all the praise heaped on it on release, I was never really a fan of Josh Tranks found-footage superhero movie Chronicle. So when Project Almanac was initially announced as a “found-footage time travel movie” I was less than enthusiastic. Imagine my surprise then when the film turned out to not only be a fantastic time travel movie but also one of the best found-footage films EVER made. For me it’s even better than the grand-daddy of them all, The Blair Witch Project.

Project Almanac tells the story of David (Johnny Weston), a brilliant high school student whose skills get him a place at MIT; however a lack of funds means that he can’t attend the only school that will push him academically. Scouring his fathers things for a project that could score him a scholarship, he comes across a video tape that seems to show that he has travelled back in time to his own seventh birthday party. Searching through the rest his fathers things for answers, David and his friends discover blueprints for a machine that can send them back in time. They soon rewrite history to win the lottery, ace exams, and party like there’s no tomorrow. Their fun is short lived however when they discover that by changing the past, they have threatened the future…

Why this film works, where Chronicle doesn’t, is that it’s characters – no matter how stupid their behaviour or how asinine they act – are still all utterly likeable. Even David, whose lone forays into time travel (breaking the gangs one rule to “never travel alone”) are the major catalyst for all the issues that arise, is at the end of the day, just trying to do right by his father – even if their groups exploits do turn into mere wish-fulfilment a lot of the time… By the time Chronicle ended I could have cared less what happened to Josh Tranks group of “superheroes”, yet here I was totally invested in the characters and what happened to them; so much so that Project Almanac overcame my (usual) loathing of the found-footage format.

Speaking of the format, the idea of a found footage time travel movie did not fill me with excitement. After all, as we all know from the likes of Back to the Future et al., time travel has consequences and it’s hard to picture those consequences playing out via a camcorder. However director Dean Israelite utilises the format to his advantage – we are thrust into the adventure with his characters, not watching from the sidelines and there’s a real sense of urgency to proceedings as characters talk [almost] directly to the audience through the camera’s lens. Israelite successfully captures everything that makes vloggers so compelling – only these guys are running around in time!

But the real revelation is Project Almanac‘s eventual use of the camcorder, which records everything as David and his friends play around in time, as a not only a plot point AND plot twist. It is, in my humble opinion, a stroke of genius. One that instills a LOT of confidence in director Dean Israelite as he embarks on the Power Rangers movie. If he can succeed in converting this found-footage naysayer into a fan, I’m sure he’s going to work wonders on the Sentai series’ next big-screen outing. And you never know, I might even enjoy the next Paranormal Activity movie – after all it’s being penned by Project Almanac scribes  Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman…

Project Almanac is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD on June 15th.

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