After almost a year’s delay — and a rename from the original Welcome to Yesterday — we finally see the release of Project Almanac, which crosses the found-footage sci-fi of Chronicle with the time travel mechanics of The Butterfly Effect. And while it doesn’t hang together nearly as well as the former film, it’s at least much better than the latter.
We focus — when the camera is in focus — on David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a whiz kid who gets into MIT but without enough financial aid to attend. His scramble for more scholarship money leads him to search for an experiment to propose, though I’m not sure why his go-to option isn’t to bang out the kinks in the revolutionary remote-control system he demonstrates in the film’s opening. Anyway, this leads him to the files left by his late father, an engineer who died shortly after David’s seventh birthday, and this turns up the files and artifacts of a time travel project buried in the basement.
So David sets about getting the time machine to work, with the technical help of his friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), and his little sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) documenting the whole thing. They frankenstein something together out of the parts they find in the basement, an Xbox, and an iPhone app they hack together. They steal hydrogen from the chemistry lab at school for “fusion” — again, if he can get fusion to work in a backpack why does he need to scrounge up an experiment for a scholarship? — and yet they still need the extra boost of power from a hybrid car battery, leading to the involvement of Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the hot girl that nerdy-hot David has a crush on.
From here things play out more or less predictably. The kids lay out careful rules for themselves before exploring their new power with increasing excitement. This builds up until David eventually transgresses the rules, and bad side-effects creep in. His efforts to fix the problems cause more problems until he decides he just has to prevent the whole project from starting in the first place.
The movie isn’t without its moments, but they feel scattered and aimless. The initial forays into time travel do some nice character-building, but the threads of those characters never really tie back into anything. Even David’s father’s death is played mostly as a convenient way to provide the kids with the germ of the project but without having anyone who could explain it to them. There are even heavy hints that his death is connected to the way he left David’s birthday to some emergency meeting regarding the project, but that idea also leads precisely nowhere. Contrast this with Chronicle, where Andrew’s emotional issues are fundamental to the instability he develops later — in direct reference to Akira — and the character traits we learn about Matt and Steve when they’re experimenting with their power leads directly to how the film plays out.
The time travel mechanics also fail to really make much sense, if you care about that sort of thing. It’s not quite distracting enough to ruin the moment-to-moment experience, but even while watching it’s clear that most of the mechanics are pure conveniences rather than a well-thought-out system of causes and effects. This isn’t Primer, but nothing else is either, so that’s hardly a fair comparison. At least it’s less ridiculous than The Butterfly Effect.
Project Almanac is not without its moments, and it should play well enough to the teenagers it targets, but for pretty much anyone else it’s better left in the past.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: on the edge, but I’ll err on the side of a fail here.