DIR: Dean Israelite • WRI: Andrew Deutschman, Andrew Deutschman, Jason Pagan • PRO: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller • DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd • ED: Martin Bernfeld, Julian Clarke • DES: Maher Ahmad • CAST: Amy Landecker, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Virginia Gardner
This is really one of those titles where you can kind of tell that it went through some changes. Personally, I actually quite like the name but it sounds more like what your average Marvel/Bond villain might call their master plan, not what you call a young-adult-targeted sci-fi that’s trying very hard to be some kind of cross between Perks of Being a Wallflower and Chronicle. That said, in terms of the more recent offerings in the found-footage “genre”, this is certainly a lot more interesting to watch than Into the Storm.
David (Weston) is a young, science prodigy who has just been accepted into MIT. While looking through his deceased father’s old experiments to try and find something he can submit for a grant, he discovers, with help from his sister Christina (Gardner), a peculiar tape that leads him and his merry band of high-school-movie-nerd-stereotypes to a device hidden in his dad’s old lab. Said device being the starting point from which they can build, and ultimately abuse the powers of, a time-machine. Add in the final ingredient that Jessie (Black-D’Elia), the girl David has a crush on, ends up joining their little team and you can guess what happens from here. They start out small, not going back in time too far, before taking more and more extreme risks in a seemingly consequence-free environment and growing closer until it all starts to go wrong and drastic decisions must be made about how to set things right.
What the film does right is acknowledge that this isn’t the first time you’ve seen this kind of film. The slightly agonising-to-watch scenes, pre-time-machine, when we have to endure their normal high-school lives are brief and not as painfully stereotypical as they could have been. And once the time travel is introduced, the montage of building and testing is equally economical. These early portions of the film are the weakest however. Christina initially comes across rather heavily as Token Girl Character before being a little better developed later on, an issue you could apply to all characters outside of David. There’s also a few moments of truly, shockingly blatant product placement. A side effect of the time travel is that it causes the camera to briefly shoot in Zack Snyder Vision and during one of these slo-mo moments a full can of Red Bull sails majestically right toward the camera; perfectly, centrally framed. You really can only laugh at these things… and admire what must be physics-defyingly powerful shotgun mics on this apparently home-video camera.
The main thrust of the film is the characters enjoying their ill-gotten power and living their lives to the fullest. The earlier reference to Chronicle is still the easiest comparison to make. While that film definitely followed the same framework, its characters didn’t abuse their powers to the same extent. This is the kind of scale you can only get away with when you have the money and access that being an MTV Studios production offers. What we see here is a truly, staggeringly indulgent use of a power. Chronicle’s level of power enjoyment felt more believable, this feels more honest even if it leans on the time-travel gimmick a tad too heavily for its all-purpose-plot-hole-insulation.
Naturally, it’s after this that things start to go wrong for the characters and arguably the film itself. The film is definitely at its strongest right as their abuse of the power peaks and as it starts to sour. The mad-dash hurdle that the plot makes toward its conclusion feels rushed and unsatisfying while the foundations also show signs of cracking under the cumulative issues in its own poorly explained and flimsy version of time-travel rules. The ending itself raises more questions than it answers but again this seems down to the singularly peculiar way the script has decided its time-travel works. There’s only really two or three ways these movies tend to end but still, there is something sigh-inducing and lazily inevitable about this particular ending.
It’s a pity because the film has some strong points and Jonny Weston as David is one of them. He’s effortlessly likable, generally amusing but ultimately flawed and compromised. Brought to a proper conclusion, his arc alone could have raised the film on the whole above its otherwise enjoyable mediocrity. I’m not saying it needed to go full Chronicle but a little more in that direction couldn’t have hurt. They also don’t make enough use of the consequences of creating paradoxes. It only happens twice but the first is a real surprise and borders on being horror-movie-level creepy. It was a neat and simple yet highly effective way to visualise it and it’s a pity the movie doesn’t get more mileage out of it. Finally, annoying as their version of time travel is, there is a nice little touch with the implication that the only truly objective record, untampered by temporal re-writing, is celluloid.
All in all then, it’s not as satisfying a movie about ‘social-outsiders’ carving out their own little nook as Perks was, nor is it as good at being Chronicle as well as, well, Chronicle was. It is still moderately enjoyable though; it’s never boring and has some fun moments. If you don’t need your time travel to make complete sense and are okay with a perfunctory ending then there are definitely much more egregious wastes of your time out there.
Probably one for ‘younger people’.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Project Almanac is released 20th February 2015