Movie Review: ‘Project Almanac’ Is Time Travel For Telephones

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Over the years, the found footage genre has mostly proven itself to be a breeding ground for the art of cinematography to die. Terrible horror movies like ‘The Devil Inside’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ have latched on to the idea for its cheap way to create annoying gotcha moments. Which I have to admit that I understand. The horror genre is always looking for ways to keep things cheap and there is nothing cheaper or cheaper looking than a bunch of ugly cameras shaking around in poorly lit locations.

However, a couple brilliant filmmakers have used the idea to make interesting stories that feel very guerrilla in nature. They use the camera to give a documentary style to an otherwise fantastical blockbuster idea. Movies like ‘Chronicle’ and ‘Cloverfield’ have sparked creative concepts and made it possible to tell epic stories in intimate ways. They’ve also spawned a couple of our best new directors.

I was hoping that ‘Project Almanac’ might be one of those movies, but sadly it’s camera tricks are more like those crappy horror movies than the clever sci fi movies it’s attempting to imitate. Luckily, it’s an interesting enough butterfly effect tale to warrant checking out once, but it’s better you watch it on your cell phone than on the big screen. Unless you like bringing headache medicine to the movie theater. In that case, this is the big screen story for you.

The tale is a pretty common one to the time travel genre. A group of intelligent kids finish the puzzle of putting together a time machine and then go back to make their lives better. The slightly intriguing thing about it is that they discover the time travel device by watching an old video that shows our protagonist, at his current age, in the background of his 7th birthday party. Sadly, this is another concept that is mostly squandered by the end.

The best thing this movie has going for it is the young actors playing the roles. The lead character, David, is played by a very charming actor named Jonny Weston. Honestly, without his presence this movie would be a complete no go. His charm and chemistry with the other characters make him a character worth rooting for. When he makes mistakes you feel for him and when he’s enjoying himself you enjoy watching him. He’s a good young actor who should get more roles because of this film.

I also really enjoy Virginia Gardner as his sister in the movie. She has a lot of spirit and makes you look her way even in a crowd. A scene where she uses time travel to stand up to a bully is the stand out of the whole film. As a matter of fact, I might have preferred her as the love interest in this film. Her allure is much more palpable than that of actress Sofia Black-D’Elia. Sofia certainly does a decent job with the role of Jessie, but she never struck me as the character the film wanted her to be.

At a certain point in the film, David decides to go against his own time travel wisdom and it starts what is known as the butterfly effect. In other words, changing things in the past creates huge ripples of change in the future. Of course, when David goes back to fix these things he just creates another problem. That’s always how these things go. It is in this part of the film that the story gets its most interesting and its plot develops its biggest problems. The way certain events effect other events seems to mostly be random and the films attempts to explain them mostly fall flat.

Still, it is a time travel movie and I am perfectly willing to say that I may have missed something that actually connected to a certain event and made the whole thing work. I admit to being confused by a number of films (like ‘Interstellar’) that upon further viewings were quite brilliant in the way they put the pieces of their puzzle together. I don’t think this is one of them, but I’m willing to concede the possibility. Either way, this film is worth checking out some time down the line for its interesting time travel tale and likable characters, but I’d wait until it’s on a much smaller screen.

 

Nathan Ligon

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