Film Review: Project Almanac

by Vincent Chan

Rated M. Starring Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D’Elia. Directed by Dean Israelite.

If you had a time machine and could go back in time, would you go back in time to stop yourself from reading this review? Well, read on to find out. 

Project Almanac tells the story of a group of teenagers who discover a time machine (yes really – a time machine). The leader of the pack, David (Weston) manages to be both a scientific genius and and have the emotional intelligence of an infant. He and his friends will come to discover that changing the past can have dire consequences for the future. Without giving too much away (although the trailer itself seems to do a pretty good job at that), let’s just say that one has to be careful when it comes to the activity of time travel.

Although Project Almanac is about time travel, it’s just as much about the experiences and possibilities of youth. For instance, it uses relatively unknown actors (or unknown to me anyway) and that really helps the film. They’re extremely likeable to watch and play out some great comedic moments perfectly. As we join them, they’re in the middle of high school, they go to parties, and there’s the usual social classes of sport jocks and science nerds. More importantly though, they have the whole future ahead of them and regrets behind them. Thus the time travel in the movie is more than just time travel. The time travel becomes a question of ‘what if?’. What if you were in control of your fate? 

The movie itself moves quickly. At times this is a good thing (Do I really care about how you discovered the machine? Let’s move!); at other times it goes a bit too fast. The story moves so quickly from scene to scene that before you can say ‘time travel’, we’re moving from one development to the next. So much so, all too often I felt the actors didn’t get to really play out their full potential. It was as if for the sake of movement and progression, they couldn’t dwell on any moment too long. This is a pity as it would have given a more rounded view of the characters.

Furthermore, the time travel concept is never fully explored. The film does a great job of depicting the actual process of going through the warp. In fact it was quite a cinematic experience as you sit there and feel the anticipated jump from one time to the next. However where it fails is to delve deeper into the consequences of changing the past and the flow on effect it inevitably has. Rather than try and make the audience think about what just happened, the film was more interested in making you go, ‘Whoa – that was cool!’ 

Which leads me to my biggest gripe with the film: hand held camera. Joining a small but growing number of this niche style, Project Almanac slots in to the lost footage genre. If you’re not sure what this is, it’s where the entire film is filmed through the perspective of the characters in the film. No doubt this is to fit in with the Gen-Y feel where everything is documented, or perhaps to bring you closer to the action. We the audience get to witness time travel first-hand through a shaky hand held phone camera. 

And for me, this was the major drawback. Sure, it helps to set the film apart from your typical movie but does it really make it a better viewing? No. So many times in the film I was wondering, “Would you really record this?”, “How did you record this?” and of course, “Why are you recording this?”. Almost to justify the technique, David repeatedly says to the camera holder, “Record everything.” The bottom line for me was that the handheld camera became a distraction in the end. Used sparingly – maybe it could have worked. Used exclusively – sorry. 

One of the big questions that the movie provoked was one of ‘What if?’. Even as I went home, I was wondering what I would change if I got the chance to go back in time. In many ways this is the attractive nature of time travel films – who doesn’t wonder from time to time how things could have been different if only I could go through yesterday, last week, last year differently.

The irony of course is that as the characters seek to change the past they don’t get the rosy future they were expecting. Even with time travel in their hands they realise they don’t have their destiny in their hands. The Bible speaks differently. The Bible speaks of God who is beyond time. The Bible speaks of God who is beyond time entering into our time in the form of Jesus Christ. Furthermore the Bible speaks about using all things in our life – the good and bad – for the good of those in Christ. In other words, the great comfort for the Christian is that even though we can’t change the past, we do know the future. 

All in all, if you’re a teen you’ll probably think Project Almanac is cool. If you’re a little older like me you’ll complain about the shaky camera and young people partying too much. I’m giving this two stars.

Project Almanac will release in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 26th February. It is already screening in cinemas elsewhere.

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