When I say the words ‘time travel’, what comes to mind? Does it conjure images of Doc Brown revving up the Delorean or of a succession of eccentric Britons in a big blue box? What about five teenagers in their parent’s basement? No? Because that’s what Project Almanac is.
What it also happens to be is a scifi thriller directed by Dean Isrealite, written by Jason Harry Pagan, and (believe it or not) counting the Lord of Explosions, Michael Bay, as one of its producers.
The first thing I can say about this film is that it’s not for the faint of stomach, because as far as the cinematography goes it is ‘found footage’ in its entirety so it could possibly make those afflicted with motion sickness feel very queasy. In some ways it suits the subject, giving it the feel of watching someone’s homemade project but the style is not for everyone and can distract from viewing.
Right, yes, basic premise.
As far as basic premises go, this film has a simple one: kid gets accepted MIT but misses out on scholarship (thus requiring his mother to sell the house to afford tuition), goes rooting through genius (dead) father’s old research to find a suitable proposal for it, finds plans for time machine, shenanigans ensue.
Ok, maybe not so simple, but you get the idea.
The first parts of the movie, as the characters are established and they set up this discovery, are fairly slow and struggled to hold my attention, being mostly just a bit of ambling between science jargon and teen issues, but when they began to test the machine things got a lot more interesting.
What works in the film’s favour is that they set limitations on this machine – it requires fuel, it can only go back so far etc – which helps to create some solid rules and a bit of tension that all come into play further down the line in a big way.
Some of these rules deal with the theoretical complications of time travel in an interesting manner and we see the old favourite of what happens if you meet your past self brought to bear quite nicely.
After the teens dip their toes in the unknown waters of time travel things start to get more interesting and the second half of the film is actually fairly intense as the ripple effect caused by their messing with the time stream starts to send things spiraling further and further out of control.
When the ending comes it is fairly abrupt but does not feel at all ham-fisted or contrived, being the most logical solution to the multitude of problems that naturally occur when you give a bunch of irresponsible teenagers the ability to time travel.
What about the visuals?
Let me tell you about the visuals.
Aside from the Marmitey love-it-or-hate-it Blair Witchey found footage cinematography I thought the rest of the visuals were fairly understated, especially considering the aforementioned producer. However they did it in a way which worked very well for them, sacrificing flashy special effects for something that felt a little more... natural? I know the word can't really apply to fictional time travel but it just seems to fit.
Performance-wise the film was a bit of a critical flop, garnering fairly bad scores from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, though managing to achieve a fairly modest user rating of 6.4/10 on the great library of cinematic knowledge known as IMDB.
So I wouldn't fire up the movie expecting an Oscar winner.
However, that being said I do believe that Project Almanac is worth a watch on a lazy Sunday, especially for fans of the time travel or 'found footage' genres. Even if it falls somewhat short of the potential its premise could have to offer, I personally quite enjoyed it after it built up a bit of momentum.