Review: 'Primer' Meets 'Chronicle' in Found Footage 'Project Almanac'
by Alex Billington
July 25, 2014
What would happen if you found a time machine when you were in high school. What would you change? How would you use it? And what would be the ramifications of its use? These are some of the questions that a new film called Project Almanac tries to address. Following in the footsteps of the found footage film Chronicle, this film has a similar style and feel, but is about a group of teens who discover plans for a time travel device and put it together on their own (like Primer). They start testing it, using it, and improving its powers, until everything starts to go wrong. It's a blast, an original and energetic creation with a few issues.
The film, originally titled Almanac, then retitled Welcome to Yesterday with an original release date early this year, was then retitled back to Project Almanac and pushed back until early 2015. Paramount's micro-budget division Insurge Pictures developed the film and the first public screening was held at Comic-Con after they showed footage during their Hall H panel. I can't say it's a perfect found footage movie, with a few issues in its setup and execution surrounding teens with cameras, but I can say it's a fantastic time travel movie. Looper and TimeCop and other great time travel movies are referenced in dialogue, and it plays with big ideas in a smart, sleek way. Ideas like the butterfly effect, paradoxes and not missing moments in life.
From the start the film focuses on its character, but what I admire about it is the way it jumps right into the time travel concept. In the opening 10 minutes, our main character discovers a video of him at his birthday when he was 7 and surprisingly notices himself, at current age, walking in the background. It is a chilling discovery that early and yet makes perfect sense - if he was there 10 years ago, then he's always been in that footage. I love that Project Almanac doesn't shy away from these big ideas of time travel, and what it means to mess with time (tip: don't fuck with time). While they don't shoot for the moon in terms of fixing history, they do take the time travel concept to some extreme places and I was happy to see them push it that far.
As much as it's a Hollywood cliche to compare one movie to other movies, this film really is a combination of Chronicle (found footage), Primer (building the machine) and, oddly enough, Project X (in terms of teens pulling off crazy teenage shenanigans and why that's important). It focuses almost too much on the teenage dynamic and their complex lives, while rushing through some of the time travel moments, flying by some scenes that could've been fleshed out more. There are hints early on as to where the film is headed, and they do go to those lengths t use time travel to its fullest extent, but it also doesn't go as far as I thought it would. If they can do this, why not go all out and do that? But maybe that's what we'll see in the sequel.
More than anything, I hope people seek out Project Almanac for its concept, for the way it intelligently tackles time travel and eschews any of the annoying Hollywood cliches (related to time travel) that typically water down the film. It's biggest issues lie in the supporting characters and their interactions in relation to the story, but not as actors. I enjoyed watching them be teens with the ability to time travel, but wanted to see more of how it affected them. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and really want to see a sequel. Plus I can't get the ending out of my mind, I keep thinking back to it. That's usually a sign of a great movie.
Alex's Rating: 8 out of 10