29 January 2015 | BrentHankins
Minor issues detract from an otherwise enjoyable time-travel flick.
Time travel is always a tricky subject for a filmmaker to tackle. It's been done countless times, with countless interpretations, and most attempts struggle to show us anything we haven't seen before. But every once in awhile, someone comes along with an idea that breathes new life into the genre, and aside from a few stumbles in the third act, Project Almanac fits nicely into that category.
Teenage genius David Raskin (Jonny Weston) just got accepted to MIT, but there's one problem - he was only awarded a partial scholarship, and his mother's only solution to afford the staggering tuition cost is to put the family home on the market. Hoping to apply for a last- minute grant from a yearly technology competition, David begins digging through his late father's possessions for potential ideas, and discovers an old video camera containing footage from his seventh birthday party. But as he reviews the tape with his sister, he makes a startling discovery - his modern-day self is visible in the background of the footage.
Along with his closest friends and fellow inventors Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), David begins tearing through his father's basement workshop looking for answers. He finds them hidden in a floor safe: a small device, along with a collection of notebooks and blueprints for a "temporal displacement" device. "We can't build a time machine in my basement," David says in disbelief, before Adam reminds him of the video footage. "I think we already did."
The experimentation process quickly becomes the highlight of Project Almanac, as David and his friends repeatedly test the device on various objects. The visuals here are tremendous fun, and the sheer, unadulterated joy the kids display when they realize what they've accomplished is infectious. They behave exactly the way you would expect teenagers with a time machine would behave: they go back in time to ace tests, stand up to bullying classmates, attend Lollapalooza, and in David's case, win the affections of longtime crush Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D'Elia).
The film runs into trouble around the beginning of the third act, when a seemingly innocuous deed turns out to have severe ramifications for the rest of the world. There's no clear explanation why things have become so dour, when previous trips into the past didn't result in disaster, and the film quickly descends into Butterfly Effect territory as each attempt to correct these mistakes results in further calamity. The ending also provides far more questions than answers, which is particularly disappointing when the first two-thirds of the film is so well-done.
Project Almanac also loses a few points thanks to a found footage approach that does more harm than good. The hand-held camera makes perfect sense as the kids film their experiments - David is a scientist, after all, and scientists like to document everything. But a lot of the dialogue-only scenes would have been better served by a more traditional cinematography style, as there are plenty of scenes where constantly holding onto a camcorder doesn't seem plausible.
These are minor issues, to be sure, but they're still issues that keep Project Almanac from being a truly great film. As it stands, it's still a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable entry into the genre - just make sure you take some Dramamine beforehand, and don't try too hard to make sense of the overlapping timelines in the third act, or the film's head-scratching conclusion.