The latest entry into the “found footage movie of the month sweepstakes,” Project X (not to be confused with that film where Matthew Broderick watches in horror as a bunch of chimps get eviscerated), has the potential to be a dorm room classic because of its content, but that won’t stop it from being thoroughly misunderstood. While many in their late teens and early twenties will see this as adolescent fantasy on a grand scale (and most viewers over the age of 40 will slink back in abject terror), it’s really a paean to epic adolescent folly. It dares to make getting completely shitfaced look as vainglorious as it really is.
On the day of his 17th birthday, North Pasadena teenager Thomas (Thomas Mann) finds himself entrusted with taking care of the family house, car, and dog while his parents go away for the weekend for an anniversary getaway. His father knows that Thomas has plans to have friends over, but he’s clueless to the kind of party Thomas’ alpha male Queens born friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) has planned. Together with their nerdy friend J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) they conspire to throw the biggest bash in their school’s history. They succeed, but things constantly escalate out of control until they’re all implicate in a lot of very nasty things.
Part of the odd allure of Project X comes from not knowing just how out of control everything gets. If possible, avoiding the trailer would be advisable because much like last month’s Chronicle, it builds to a climax of incredibly epic proportions. Also, like that successful film, this really isn’t made from “found footage.” It’s more of the recreation of a timeline told from different perspectives, especially towards the end of the film. It sometimes feels kind of stagey (especially with regards to exposition), and it’s hard not to wonder how much better the film would’ve been had it been played straight, but the first person perspectives don’t cause unnecessary hindrance to the film.
The characters are complete archetypes, but purposefully so. Music video veteran Nima Nourizadeh takes the first person camera perspective and applies it in much the same way as Chronicle. In that film, the teens are filming jackass style stunts. Here, in what’s ostensibly a sex comedy for at least a third of the film’s 88 minute running time, the teenagers are hopelessly horny and the camerawork is built to match. It looks like it was filmed by drunken 17 year olds, but unlike most Michael Bay films, that’s entirely the point here.
The cast settles into these roles well, but it’s the script (co-written by Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World co-writer Michael Bacall) that lends the movie it’s smarts and the sense of escalation needed for the film to work. While the film has to descend into sleaze in order for it to work, Bacall and co-writer Matt Drake show that there are actual consequences that lead from their actions. As the evening goes on, the kids start looking worse and worse and are seriously facing legal ramifications for their stupidity. The script simultaneously feels more debauched than producer Todd Phillips’ Hangover films, and surprisingly less offensive. In those films, everyone gets off scott-free for bad behviour. Here, not everyone is that lucky.
Project X captures the vibe of an all night rager with energy and wit to spare, but it also has the guts to get darker and darker with its material as the film goes on. The darker it gets, the more the film breaks away from its frat boy trappings. It’s the most fun someone could have watching dumb people doing stupid things without getting arrested themselves. Conversely, if you’re a frat boy or a home owner, this could end up feeling more like a horror film.