Starring: Johnny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner
Directed by: Dean Israelite (debut)
Written by: Josh Pagan (debut) and Andrew Deutschman (debut)
I have a soft spot for time travel movies. To date the only feature-length screenplay—obviously unproduced and likely kind of crummy– I’ve ever written was a time travel story. On the flip side, I have an ever growing disdain for “found footage” movies. Those, of course, are movies shot to look like there is some crazy person close to the action constantly filming every single thing. As a plot-related gimmick, it can be effective, but when used as simply an aesthetic, things can get kind of dopey. These two dynamics come together in the surprisingly fun teen time-travel adventure “Project Almanac.”
The movie opens with David (Johnny Weston) showing off some quad-copter control technology on video for his application to MIT. Soon afterward, David learns he’s been accepted, yet only offered a $5,000 scholarship. With his widowed mother putting the house up for sale, David is determined to find some old technology belonging to his late father to make some money. When he discovers his father’s old video camera, the footage recorded on it contains something shocking: video of teenage David at his own 7th birthday party. Looking to get to the bottom of things, David, along with his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) and his best friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner) explore his father’s basement laboratory and find the parts and plans to construct a time machine.
“Project Almanac” packs some smart, solid entertainment into a movie filled with attractive teens with unbelievably advanced knowledge of nuclear physics and thermodynamics. In a sci-fi adventure film, I expect some credibility-straining traits here and there, but the found footage angle threatens to be the biggest obstacle of all for the film’s internal logic to overcome. Never mind the fact that these teens are apparently using high definition cameras with amazing shotgun mics instead shooting things on their iPhones, the real question is why are things like private rendezvous being recorded from afar, or nefarious uses of the time travel device documented when the whole goal is for no one to ever find out about the changes being made? Being presented as found footage offers absolutely nothing to the story, only conjuring up weird circumstances and stilted dialogue to explain why someone is recording yet again. Trust in the story, filmmakers, and leave the found footage format where you, uh, found it.