David Raskin (Johnny Weston) is a gifted kid who gets a scholarship to MIT, the trouble is that without a scholarship, his family can’t afford the fees, so David goes back to the drawing board to find a more exciting project to pitch. While going through his late fathers things, David and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) find video footage that appears to show a 17-year-old David at his own 7th birthday party. Further research leads David and his friends to construct a time machine, but controlling past events proves more difficult than expected.
The idea behind Project Almanac is a lovely one, especially since David finding the plans for the time machine in his late father’s belongings adds a layer of poignancy to the film, but it is not long before Project Almanac collapses under the weight of its own ambition.
The cast do fine in their roles – although many of them feel a little underdeveloped – and their enthusiasm for the project comes through on screen. Without knowing these people a little better, however, it is hard to root for them when they make selfish and misguided decisions.
Writers Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan seem to have been inspired by Primer and the often-referenced Looper while making the film. The trouble is that while they have the hero, the technology and the tragic past events to keep the film moving, it seems as though they don’t understand the intricacies of the time travel element they have created. Paradoxes happen, not in a way ever shown in time travel films before, but instead of giving explanation and reason for a violent reaction when past events are tampered with, the audience is left to winder what is happening, and why. In order for a time travel movie to work, the filmmakers have to understand their own logic, but it seems as though understanding got lost somewhere along the way.
Director Dean Israelite made the dubious decision to make Project Almanac a found footage style movie; not only does it feel as though this style of filmmaking is played out and jaded, but the spinning and jerking camera movements detract from any enjoyment found in the film. The film starts off well, but as soon as the gang start playing with past events and changing the past, the emotional through line is lost and the paradoxes seem wildly implausible – David goes back in time to kiss the girl and causes a plane crash?! WHAT!??
In all, Project Almanac is an ambitious film with tons of potential that collapses under the weight of its own aspirations. Plot holes and paradoxes abound and, through a series of inconsequential events, the emotional heart of the film is allowed to die. As well as this, it seems that the filmmakers didn’t understand their own theories, so fail to communicate these to the audience, or tell a story that is in any way new or unusual.