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Project Almanac

D: Dean Israelite / 106m

Cast: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks

Budding inventor David Raskin (Weston) has been accepted into MIT but is unable to afford his tuition. When his mother (Landecker) finds out she plans to sell their home. In an attempt to avoid this happening, David decides to see if he can find anything amongst the various inventions left behind by his father (Weeks) before he died on David’s seventh birthday in a car crash. Instead he finds an old camcorder that contains footage of his seventh birthday party. Watching it back he’s shocked to discover himself as he is now in the background of one of the shots. He shows this to his sister, Christina (Gardner) and his two friends, Adam (Evangelista) and Quinn (Lerner). With their help David finds the blueprints for a “temporal relocation device” that his father was apparently building.

They then find the prototype he was working on and using some additional resources, such as the battery from the car of the girl David has a crush on, Jessie (Black-D’Elia), they manage to get the machine to work. But Jessie discovers what they’re doing and she becomes part of the group. All five travel back in time to the previous day and decide to play a trick on Quinn, but it nearly backfires on them. Making a pact to always use it together, they use the time machine for personal gain, Adam winning the lottery, Christina getting her own back on a school bully, and Quinn passing an important test. They also decide to travel back three months to a Lollapalooza festival where David has a chance to declare his feelings for Jessie. However, he hesitates too much and the moment passes. When it becomes clear that Jessie is upset by this and growing distant from him, David travels back alone to the festival to fix things.

But even though he and Jessie are a couple when he comes back, the change has caused a ripple effect that has culminated in a plane crash that killed everyone aboard. David goes back again to fix things but this time it causes a different set of problems. Jessie begins to suspect that David has manipulated their being together, but when they both travel back to correct things, Jessie meets her past self and is erased from that particular timeline. Worldwide catastrophes occur as a result, which prompt David to travel back to his seventh birthday and warn his father of the consequences of building his machine…

Project Almanac - scene

As with No Good Deed (2014), Project Almanac is a movie whose release has been delayed for reasons unknown, but anyone watching the movie – also known and advertised as Welcome to Yesterday before ending up with its current title – will have a fair idea of why when the quintet win big on the lottery (but not as big as expected), and Adam says, “I’m not winning the lottery a second time!” Casting aside its biggest mystery – just what was David doing at his seventh birthday party? – the movie opts for several bouts of wish fulfilment first before sending in the expected trials and tribulations of changing the past (has anyone noticed that the ripple effects in these movies are always for the worst, and never the best? Isn’t that equally as likely to happen?).

The script, by Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, never really has a clear goal for its characters and never really gets its head around the conundrums of time travel, preferring instead to pull the rug out from under David et al with often ill-considered consequences attached. As attempts to heighten the drama they’re less than successful: one minute David’s mother has a job, the next she hasn’t; one minute Adam’s fine, the next he’s been run over; one minute David’s in one timeline, the next he’s not – and he has no idea what’s been happening in either. If it’s frustrating or maddening for the characters, imagine what it’s like for the poor viewer, having to sit through yet another time travel movie that doesn’t fully explore the possibilities inherent in its plotting and storyline. In the end it takes an unconvincing way out and doubles back on itself in a way that you know the makers think is clever, but if you give it enough thought, you’ll soon realise it’s a cheat.

With the plot and story chock full of holes, and constantly undermining itself, Project Almanac also plays havoc with its characters and their continuity. David is meant to be intelligent and inventive with a streak of geek in him that makes his relationship with Jessie that much more awkward to navigate. But the script throws out any intelligence he has when he goes back to Lollapalooza to change his and Jessie’s life together. Would someone so smart really want to manipulate his “true” love in such a way? And why is he suddenly so insensitive and shallow? And why can’t he see that with each trip he makes he runs the risk of losing everything? (Because the script needs him to, is the answer to all these questions.) And as this central romance takes prominence, the rest of the group become less interesting and less involved, and are reduced to making dire predictions about David’s tampering with time travel.

To make matters worse, the found footage style of filming used here often makes no sense, particularly in the scene where David travels back to Lollapalooza – just who is filming him and Jessie if this is now a separate timeline and he’s making his move? It’s moments like these that further undermine the credibility of events and make the movie such a disheartening viewing experience. Making his feature debut, Israelite pulls off some clever visuals, but shows his lack of experience throughout, leaving his cast adrift for most of the movie and along with the screenwriters, making the science seem too absurd for its own good (it’s handy that David’s high school has a good supply of hydrogen tanks – hydrogen tanks, really?). One plus is the lack of a musical score – as it should be – but it’s a sad state of affairs when the absence of something is a movie’s best feature.

Rating: 3/10 – with too many stupid decisions made by an apparently intelligent character – he got into MIT, remember? – Project Almanac is another in the long line of low budget time travel movies that fails to capitalise adequately on its basic premise; continually underwhelming, it remains risible throughout and entirely forgettable.