Found-footage is alive, but not well. Project Almanac is the latest entry into the clunky and tiring genre that has plagued our theatres for the past decade. Although there have been some gems of the film style, such as Cloverfield, The Conspiracy and, most recently, Chronicle, their innovativeness is often overshadowed by the nauseating and pervasive tropes apparent in most other films. Where some films, like the ones above, have used the filming style as an effective means of storytelling, most use it as a crutch and excuse for lazy cinematography. Despite its mildly interesting premise and capable cast, Project Almanac falls squarely into the same old … same old.
Almanac follows a group of high school seniors, lead by David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a genius with the know-how for almost anything, uncovering the secrets of time travel through the work left behind by David’s father. As could be expected, things get exponentially more complicated as David champions himself the fixer of past problems. As he goes back again and again, he attempts to make a perfect world (for him at least), leading to even more problems for all. And what would any good teen melodrama be without love, made ever the more complicated by time travel? Tragic.
Immediately, one may begin to draw parallels to John Trank’s Chronicle, but where Chronicle does well to establish believable relationships between characters, Almanac does relatively little. Most of the relationships are established simply by presumption or through frantic interjections of “Dude!” and other colloquial terms of endearment. The characters seem distant and the chemistry is almost nonexistent. That, coupled with the fact that the film is littered with fake half-smiles and forced dialogue, makes it harder to believe these characters are actually friends. To Almanac’s credit, there were several instances of funny antics that stood out as things friends would actually do given the ability to time travel, but these aspects were weighed down by a boring and unnecessary love plot.
Within its own fiction, Almanac has serious problems in terms of the mechanics of time travel. To be fair, the film is about time travel and one has to suspend some disbelief, but when the method and nature of time travel is established in one shot and defied in the next, it leaves attentive viewers scratching their heads. It leads one to wonder how scrupulous the editors were in the script or in post-production, especially considering the film was pushed back from its slated 2014 release. That being said, the fiction was quite enjoyable, and the better part of the film truly lied in its premise.
The film is ultimately a rehash of older ideas and is a prime example of the state of the found-footage genre. How many more times are we going to see characters that film every possible facet of their lives? Believability aside, it is rather dull to have all information thrown our way explicitly. It leaves virtually nothing left to the imagination.
At one point in the film, Sofia Black D’Elia’s character says, “You guys film everything, don’t you?” Yes, they do. Convenient isn’t it?
It is these types of conveniences in virtually all found-footage films that lead many to write off the genre. To better the genre, one may consider introducing some new ideas and dynamics, straying from the formula established as far back as The Blair Witch Project. Although the genre wouldn’t be the same if its staples, like shaky-cam and odd camera angles were completely eradicated, there must be a more nuanced way to simulate novice hands behind a camera, rather than a slew of thrashing and jumping.
Almanac has an interesting concept, but it falls mostly into the industry standards. Here’s to the idea that someone comes along and breathes some creativity into a genre that has proven to fill seats.
Featured Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures