Darke Reviews – Project Almanac (2015)


Excellent, another review for 2015. I was starting to get worried I’d make it to Valentines day without another interesting film in theatres around here to review. I also had the added benefit of seeing the film with a friend who appreciated all the facets of the film I did and reacted to many of the same parts as I did. It’s fascinating to enjoy a film with someone like that. The post film discussion as the credits rolled ensured that my views were both challenged and reinforced where required allowing for a better review for you to read or skip to the TL;DR of.

That said, some people may notice the produced by Michael Bay credit in the trailer. This is not a damning factor. Point in fact his influence seems largely absent, unlike TMNT. Post film we also discussed how a production credit by either talent (DelToro) or …whatever Bay is does not indicate the quality of the film. Many other facets must be considered such as budget, writing, acting, and direction. It also depends on how much the studio wishes to interfere with the director and project (see Hellboy or X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Here it appears influence was at the barest minimum from the likes of Bay, however production studio MTV was in full swing and influence with what appears to be a 10 minute music video for some bands and a concert event. Also production consideration from GoPro.

The director is Dean Israelite, who has this movie as his debut feature film. It is worth mentioning that Dean is the cousin of Jonathan Liebesman (director of TMNT); coincidence? I honestly don’t know, I lean towards a strong no. The question is how does he do? The short answer is not bad, but not good. It isn’t that he is a “meh” either, so much as that he has some interesting successes but some areas of the film that fall flat. The Chronicle-esque teen found footage shooting style is inconsistent and as with many found footage films lacks logic at a certain point. There are times no one would be filming what is being filmed and others where its just a bit too smooth and steady to be believable. That is an odd critique given my disdain for shaky camera work, but if you provide me a conceit you need to stick with it and there are times its just too clean to be real and it takes you from the film. A lot of this comes down to his choices and his determination so I must lay the blame with him. The same goes for the performances, which are a mixed bag through no fault of the performers themselves, so much as what they were given and how they were guided to deliver it.

As an example, our MIT applicant David (Jonny Weston) performs solidly throughout and only has a minor bit of de-evolution of his IQ as the plot progresses. His sister Christina (an uncredited Virginia Gardner) is forced to deliver some completely unrealistic lines to be the audience foil. Without verging into spoiler territory I am expected to believe a girl who would go back in time to see Star Wars Episode IV, has zero clue who Dr. Who is? That she, who has a brother who is a certifiable genius and a best friend who might be smarter has no idea what the word temporal means? We also have the ‘girlfriend’ with Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D’elia) who serves quite literally no purpose other than to be the girlfriend and to create a romance in the film. While their performances are solid enough, the characterizations of these two women are on the best of days weak and the worst utterly pointless. I almost have the feeling they were added to keep this from being Chronicle again with the focus on the male protagonists alone.

That being said, the writing has successes and flaws as well. First time screenwriters Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman may fail on writing females, but they at least succeed at science – somewhat. They are wise enough to not try to explain the temporal mechanics of the time machine and to use hand-wavium to go DARPA and leave it at that. The incessant movie pop culture references are distracting at a point; which I have found in my own writing to be a victim of, shows the signs of novice writers or the studio. Though I suspect a bit of both. They also have clearly watched other films along these same themes such as Primer, Looper, A Sound of Thunder, and Butterfly Effect. They succeed at handling time travel better than half of them and overall tell a better story than that same half. Though I would have preferred to hear a Philadelphia Experiment mention either as pop culture or history – take your pick. From a purely narrative perspective they didn’t do bad with a reasonable rise in escalation and even a nice slow start showing reasonable scientific progress, they just sort of failed on the character design a bit.

TL;DR?

As found footage films go, this isn’t the worst of them. As time travel movies go, it also isn’t the worst. It was actually fun and even a bit honest what teenagers would do with a time travel device which is a bit refreshing. It’s wise enough to not explain its science (which tends to fail) and dumb enough to ignore the science it was trying to show early on.

Ultimately this is a perfectly serviceable and mediocre film which has some fun to it. It’s not great, it isn’t bad, but at least it isn’t a meh.

  • If you were at all interested in it, I would say matinee it at the very most.
  • If you weren’t interested but at vaguely curious Redbox/Netflix it later on.
  • If found footage, MTV films, or time travel aren’t your thing I have no idea why you are reading this review; unless it’s to see if I try to eviscerate it in prose.

That said, I don’t feel I wasted my time or money on the movie and found it a bit fun. Maybe you will too.

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