If you had any inkling the found footage craze was spluttering out, ”Project X” comes hot on the heels of ”Chronicle” to prove the big trick the movement had yet to pull was to cross genre boundaries. It did so in ”Chronicle” into superhero sci-fi, and the result was a surprisingly fresh well-executed and cool film.
In ”Project X”, it doesn’t bring anything extra to the teen party genre but the premise of the film is enough to carry you along – when the godfathers of the movement are Porky’s and Animal House, you don’t have to aim too high. You can in fact acknowledge the found footage execution by describing it at ”Porky’s” for the YouTube generation.
Nobody connected with the film has admitted it was based on, inspired by or at least a nod to the infamous 2008 Melbourne party thrown by then 16-year-old Corey Worthington, where 500 people turned up and caused extensive damage to the neighbourhood. But that’s the story in a nutshell.
Three school friends (puddle-depth stereotypes in the trash-talking best friend, nerdy fat kid and sensitive, slightly shy hero) want to throw the ultimate party, and it’s all caught on tape. Thomas (Thomas Mann, coming up next in ”Hansel & Gretel”) is having a birthday, and his loudmouth friend Costa (Oliver Cooper, looking so much like a young David Naughton it’s scary) wants to turn it into an epic gathering that will cement the boys’ status as party legends at school and beyond forever.
Their chubby pal JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and silent, slightly scary cameraman Dax (Dax Flame – has to be his pornstar name) go along for the ride as the nervy Thomas wants to rein things in while Costa goes all out to make the night one to remember.
There’s a DJ, blow up sex dolls in the pool, flashing lights and smoke machines in the backyard, and after a nervous wait for people to arrive, they arrive in droves – everybody from local college age party legend Miles (Miles Teller) to the school hottie everyone wants, Alexis (Alexis Knapp).
Things quickly spiral out of control as the crowds swell, the arc of mayhem ranging from people inside the house (which Thomas has strictly forbidden) to someone driving his Dad’s Mercedes into the pool, while the guys can only look on in wonder, terror and excitement at what they’ve wrought.
The script offers enough to stop it being a one trick pony, with sidelines like the junior security detail, the angry neighbour and the police visit feeling like they belong but not overstaying their welcome. The oft-trod devices are amply represented too, especially in Thomas’ geeky-hot best friend (Kirby Bliss Blanton, another porn name if ever there was one). You know the story – the two are secretly in love and their relationship will come to a head at the opportune moment after she catches Thomas in bed with the hot girl, who’s finally come onto him and made him think all his dreams are coming true.
Most satisfying of all is that Project X hits the mark it aims for all along despite the found footage set-up. It’s funny – at times raucously so, and any film that can get you laughing at the antics of teenagers (when it’s been many years since you’ve been one and the genre itself has been done to death over the last three decades) has done something good.
Which leads us to the question of consequences. In the time of ”Animal House” and ”Porky’s” misbehaviour existed for their own sake and as the saying goes, if you don’t do anything stupid while you’re young you’ll have nothing to smile about when you’re old.
But we live in a culture of blame and responsibility where the slightest misdeed can be characterised as destructive, so one of ”Project X”’s most powerful aspects (unwittingly so) is to make you ask if the three boys get what they deserve in the final superscript explanations that let them off the hook. Even Thomas’ own Dad – so anally retentive about his house in the beginning before he and Thomas’ mother go away for the weekend – is quietly proud of the son he thought was a loser but who’ll now be in debt forever paying for the damage.
If we revisited the characters in real life 10 years hence, Costa would probably be in jail, Thomas would be a drug-addicted welfare recipient and JB might be dead. But the magic of childhood, as ”Project X reminds us”, is that – like in the movies – there is no tomorrow.