“Who’s Doctor Who?”
The premise of Project Almanac is pretty simple: What would you do if you and your friends in high school built a time machine? Good Grades? Cash Money? Delicious Revenge? Well, it turns out all of the above.
David Raskin, played by the young Jonny Weston, is a genius teenager trying to get into MIT. Ten years ago on his seventh birthday his father died in a car crash leaving the family in financial trouble. His best friends, Quinn and Adam, and his sister help film his experimental projects he’s using as part of his college resume. When it’s revealed that David is accepted into MIT he is only awarded with a small scholarship making it impossible for him to go. While rummaging around in his father’s old stuff he comes across a camcorder that has a tape from his seventh birthday. After watching the tape he is shocked to see his present self in a mirror in the background. While sharing this with his friends they realize that the mirror David is heading into the basement which used to be his father’s old work shop.
When the group discovers a hidden machine in his dad’s old work shop and plans on how to build the power source to a time machine, they quickly get to work on making it a reality. This is one of the biggest missteps I feel the script makes. I find it highly unlikely that a kid who worshiped his father had never taken the time in ten years to actually go into his work area. After several failed and hilarious attempts at creating a power source, they are finally able to get it to work by hooking it up to a car. The car is owned by the story’s main love interest, Jessie Pierce (played by Sofia Black-D’Elia), who had parked her car at David’s house while attending a block party. She sees their first successful experiment and quickly becomes a part of the team. Once they successfully all travel back a day in time, the gang makes ground rules such as never to travel alone.
Over time a love interest flairs up between Jessie and David, and this is where the plot’s main point of tension comes from. Not a government agency hunting them down, not some ultimate time lord bullshit, but the missed opportunity to have a first kiss. I know that sounds vomit inducing, but it works really well in the film. Who hasn’t wanted to go back to a moment where they knew if they had just acted a different way their life would be so much better? David starts traveling back alone to fix mistakes and this is when the timelines start to spiral far out of anyone’s control.
The cast of characters and fast cinematography make for an exciting teen film. First time director Dean Israelite did a great job with a young and relatively fresh cast, they deliver hilarious and easily relateable characters. It honestly felt like watching the home movies of modern day teenagers. There are certain unique time travel ideas used throughout the film such as if you run into yourself on a different timeline you freeze and both start to glitch out of existence. It’s a haunting moment when you actually get a chance to see it in action..
Something that sets Project Almanac apart from most found footage films is that the characters actually have a legitimate reason to constantly be filming. I mean if you traveled through time I’m sure you’d want to be able to document every single moment to prove what you’ve done. As a cinematographer myself, the biggest issue with these types of films is that we’re supposed to believe that a Mini DV camcorder from 2004 looks as crystal clear as a RED Epic, but hey maybe I’m just splitting hairs. I understand directors want to just show their stories with the most up to date equipment, but I always think back to the realism of The Blair Witch Project. That grainy digital footage mixed with muddy black and white film only added so much to the atmosphere and I often wonder if these modern films could benefit from using that same technique.
Overall, Project Almanac was a much better film than I was honestly expecting from a Michael Bay produced project. It felt like the Chronicle sequel I’ve been waiting for. If you’ve got the time (haha… get it?), I’d recommend at least checking this out. It’s a story about friends gaining the power to do anything in the world and the downfalls that come with it.