While digging through his father’s old things, high school senior David Raskin and his sister Christina find an old video camera with film of David’s seventh birthday party. Upon viewing the footage David notices that his current seventeen-year-old self is in the party’s background. After some sleuthing David, Christina, and their friends are able to find a strange mechanical object and blue prints for a time machine that were left behind by David’s father.
Through trial and error they are able to get the machine working and transport themselves back in time at varying increments. After realizing that the machine cannot send them far back enough to kill Hitler, which the characters claim they are obligated to do as time travelers, they decide to use the machine to make their lives better. Time travel tropes like cheating the lottery and retaking tests for a better grade occur, there are the inevitable ripple effects, and David scrambles to fix everything without making it worse.
For the week leading up to Project Almanac’s release every YouTube video I watched had a fifteen-second promotion for the film. Though short, the desperation and terror shown in those fifteen seconds plays the film off as a science fiction horror film, with the main focus as time travelers paying dearly for their mistakes. However, upon looking up the full preview I learned that Project Almanac is more of a teen angst film with a time travel twist. By seeing the full trailer I also learned the movie’s entire plot. Either Insurge Pictures and MTV Films are confident that no one actually watches commercials longer than fifteen seconds anymore, or they realized that there is not enough content in Project Almanac to not exhibit the entire plot in a standard two and a half minute trailer. Though that may seem a bit harsh, there is only so much you can do with a found-footage teen angst film about time travel.
Despite the movie being ridiculously predictable, partially because I saw the full trailer, and had limitations visually due to its found footage nature, there are some shining moments. One is the actual building of the time machine, which places a lot of emphasis on how far technology has come since the original plans for the machine were made. Ten years ago the supplementary technology may have only been found in a secret government lab, but now the high school students can use a hybrid car battery, the graphics processor from an Xbox, and their iPhones to make the majority of the time machine.
All in all, if you are curious about the film watch the preview. If at that point it seems like the type of thing that you can sit two hours through without pulling out your phone, then go ahead and see it in theaters. Despite its predictability, confused marketing campaign, and no real explanation as to why the characters are filming everything before they find the time machine, Project Almanac is an enjoyable film.
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