For best friends David (Jonny Weston), Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), scientific inventions are everything, often compromising their own popularity in the process. So when watching an old home video with his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), David notices himself, as a young adult, standing in the background at his own seventh birthday party. Incensed and curious, this sets the group on a mission to discover what exactly occurred – which is when they find the sibling’s deceased father’s time machine. As they work tirelessly to get the device working – which also impresses David’s crush, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) – they are encouraged by the original home video, knowing that eventually, they must be successful. But what they aren’t aware of, are the countless troubles and disturbances along the way.
Project Almanac is frustratingly presented in the found-footage sub-genre, as Christina documents their entire journey on a handheld camera. Though proving itself to be a vital plot component in this instance, it’s still somewhat distracting and superfluous for the most part. There are so many instances where you question why and how they’re filming, as it’s been shamelessly implemented, not even giving the characters the cliched excuse for shooting a documentary, which seeks only in taking the viewer out of the story on occasion. However it doesn’t detract too heavily from our enjoyment of the intelligent and creative narrative, which is enhanced by this comforting sense of purpose, as we know they manage to get the machine working eventually. Though not completely original, Israelite is not afraid to tip his hat to productions that have influenced him, wearing these inspirations as a badge of honour, with several references throughout to the likes of Terminator, Looper and Bill and Ted.
Even Groundhog Day gets a mention – and this picture shares a similarity to the magical piece of cinema, is how unashamedly entertaining the middle section is, when they put their machine to good use. What transpires is a sequence of events, not too far removed from the scenes in the aforementioned Bill Murray starring feature, where he tries over, and over to win the girl, or in Chronicle when our protagonists use their powers in such a frivolous fashion. The characters are having a lot of fun with their new toy, and in turn, so are we. What is helped is that, and bear with me on this, Israelite presents his picture is an understated manner, and while of course a suspension of disbelief is required given the fantastical, supernatural themes – this remains somewhat unambitious, and it’s to the film’s benefit. Rather than go back in time to see the dinosaurs, or confront Hitler (ideas they certainly discuss) – instead they only ever go back very slightly, at most around three months, changing relatively insignificant things, like buying backstage passes to a gig after it’s finished, then going back to use them, or to pass tests at school. However we still see how only the smallest of changes in our past can affect the present.
Project Almanac is grounded by the romantic narrative that exists too, managing to find a strand of intimacy amidst the grandiose elements, in a surprisingly sincere fashion. As we progress the human themes become more prevalent too, and though it’s easy to become disengaged with the cliched high-school, found footage aspects – you do grow into this picture, as it becomes a tale of addiction, and a fascinating study of the human psyche, which manages to inspire a really impressive turn from lead star Weston. Often when you have charismatic actors play supposedly unpopular ‘geeks’ on screen, you simply don’t abide by it, unable to see past their evident charm and self-assurance, – but Weston is believable as somebody with very little confidence, and one hell of a big brain.