Project Almanac

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 9, 2015

Project Almanac

"Project Almanac" is produced by Michael Bay, but fortunately it's not the kind of bloated, meaningless festival of noise and debris that characterize the "Transformers" movies. Rather, this film has a smaller, more immediate, and more palpably genuine vibe about it, similar to the 2012 Josh Trank movie "Chronicle."

In Trank's film, a group of three friends -- young guys, still in high school -- stumble upon a mysterious phenomenon in a cave and then find they are capable of superhuman powers such as telekinesis and flight. But their high-spirited celebrations of these inexplicable powers are tinted by an ever-darkening spiral of alienation and chaos, with tragic results.

"Project Almanac" is only slightly less improbable than "Chronicle," but it has a similar cinematic and storytelling effectiveness, and calls to mind other smart, involving sci-fi films that work on a smaller-than-blockbuster scale, such as last year's parallel universes flick "Coherence," directed by James Ward Byrkit, or Shane Carruth's 2004 time travel indie "Primer."

"Almanac," written by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman and directed by Dean Israelite, concerns a brilliant, MIT-bound teen named David Raskin (Jonny Weston) discovering a device left behind by his long-dead father, also a genius and, as it turns out, secretly an inventory for DARPA. The machine is not finished, but the notes David's father left behind point the way; after some experimentation, David and his friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner) achieve a working model of the device, which turns out to be a time machine. The film falls into the "found footage" genre thanks to the plot device of David's sister Christine (Virginia Gardner) filming the proceedings, and there's also a major subplot involving a blossoming romance between David and school hottie Jessie (Sofia Black-D'Elia).

At first, time travel is all fun and games and easy cash (the teens waste no time in engineering a lottery win). But altering the past inevitably has unforeseeable effects on the present, and eventually David realizes that he's made a Gordian knot out of the timeline that only drastic action can undo.

The film's special effects are kept in check, never overwhelming the story characters which in itself is a relief. There are great big gaping holes in the plot, but the story and performances are engaging enough that they are easy to overlook -- even though, from a production standpoint, this is a more highly polished work of cinema than a teen with a single video camera could accomplish. (But hey, the part where the kids go back six months to catch Imagine Dragons at the Lollapalooza Concert? Genius.)

The Blu-ray / DVD release of the film has only a few extras: An alternate beginning and two alternate endings, and a slate of deleted scenes. These are amusing enough, but the filmmakers chose correctly in what they put into the final product. The reason to buy or rent the film lies with the production itself (which is full of funny twists and nods at classics of the genre, including brief but unmissable winks at "Back to the Future" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure") and the cast, a group of young unknowns with some real screen presence.

"Project Almanac"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.