After seeing Power Rangers earlier this year and being pleasantly surprised, I was curious about other projects director Dean Israelite had worked on. His first feature was Project Almanac, which was released in theaters January 30, 2015. While not a box-office success, it is an entertaining movie that looks at time travel and the danger in tampering with things that are better left alone.
David (Jonny Weston) is an incredibly bright high school student who has his sights set on attending MIT. Eager to build something that might earn him a scholarship, he stumbles into his late father’s old workspace in the basement. Along with his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David discovers the blueprints for a device that manipulates time. The lives of these tight-knit friends quickly spiral out of control and they find themselves in a race against time to right their wrongs.
I was invested in David as a character from the opening scene of the movie. Part of this is due to the fact that he’s such a normal kid with a normal story; getting into a dream school and figuring out how to pay for it is a struggle many of us can understand. More than that though is the way Israelite and cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd tell the story.
The entire movie is shot in a popular style that resembles “found footage”, meaning every single frame looks as if the characters are filming themselves on a hand-held camera. Think The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or Josh Trank’s Chronicle. This style of shooting instantly pulls the viewer into the action and makes it feel as though you’re along for the ride.
David and his friends are joined by his younger sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), who is responsible for filming everything the group does. All of their experiments, testing, and tinkering is captured on camera for the intentions of posterity.
The cast share a natural chemistry with one another and are very believable as a group of high school kids with extremely narrowed interests. Instead of using the time machine to do anything meaningful or worthwhile (which was the original intent), they use it for trivial matters: going back in time to win the lottery, getting back at the intimidating school bully, and crashing a concert at Lollapalooza.
On one hand I could appreciate how Almanac is set in the real world with real consequences. Too often films operate in a universe where the characters are oblivious to laws, morals, etc. For David in particular, he begins to interfere with time on his own behind his friends’ back, which was one of the only rules the group had. His own personal “jumps” in time begin to add up and lead to more and more calamity, which he eventually comes clean about. In those moments, I was impressed by Weston’s acting abilities as well as Israelite’s more than capable direction.
The biggest issue with Almanac isn’t the acting, directing, or the visual effects, it’s the story itself. The first and second acts are pretty exciting and seem to be building towards something, yet the story quickly loses steam when it becomes apparent that there isn’t a real purpose for the time device. David’s father obviously had plans for it, but those plans are never revealed. There isn’t even a central villain who wants to take control of the machine. While that might have been un-original and un-inspiring, it would have at least given the story a sense of urgency and an overarching purpose.
Unfortunately, these shortfalls ultimately jolt the viewer out of the story and make it hard to care about the outcome of these characters. Rushed explanations, hazy reasoning and faulty scientific terms are probably also to blame.
Even still Project Almanac isn’t a terrible movie. It has some humorous moments, fun visual effects and an interesting idea at its core. It’s just too bad that the story itself wasn’t more developed. If this comes on your television one rainy, lazy afternoon go ahead and check it out!
Project Almanac is directed by Dean Israelite and scripted by writing partners Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, who also worked on the screenplay for Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. It stars Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner, and Gary Grubbs.
What is your favorite “found footage” movie? Tell me which one and why below in the comments!