We can live vicariously through the characters and witness both a legendary party and the chaos that transpires as a result.
The found footage obsession that has gripped filmmaking in the last few years has had its share of winners (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity) and losers (Apollo 18, Paranormal Activity 2). Project X, already the second film of 2012 employing this style of filmmaking (the other being Chronicle), uses the found footage approach for a reason wholly different than any of its predecessors: to give audiences a front-row seat to the greatest party that has ever been thrown. Compared to Project X, Can’t Hardly Wait, Superbad, and The Hangover essentially look like the equivalent to a third-grade classroom’s Valentine’s Day party.
The film’s premise is immediately recognizable but strangely unfamiliar. A group of unpopular high school kids want to become well known in their high school before graduation. In this case, they use the excuse of a birthday to throw what turns out to be the party of the century. Thomas (Thomas Mann) is turning 17 and his best friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) is dead set on using the occasion to make their mark on their classmates. Along with their socially inept friend JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), the friends plan what is supposed to be a small soirée and nothing more.
Thomas’s parents are going out of town for the weekend (their first mistake) and leave their son home alone, acknowledging that he will probably have a few friends over (second mistake). Costa, the obligatory obnoxious friend, has enlisted AV clubber Dax (Dax Flame) to record the preparations and the night’s events. (In hindsight, Thomas should have realized that Costa’s insistence in documenting the evening wasn’t a good sign.)
When they arrive at school that morning, Costa wastes no time inviting everybody. He sends out an email and text blast to the whole school, and even does an on-air radio announcement and places an ad on Craigslist. As people start arriving, Thomas quickly realizes that his parents’ backyard won’t hold everyone and they begin spilling inside the house, which is supposed to be off limits. As the beer flows and ecstasy makes an appearance, Thomas’s worries melt away as the party quickly escalates into a Code Red disaster.
A new word will have to be coined in order to appropriately describe the events depicted in Project X. “Mayhem” seems close, but not lewd enough; “debauchery” doesn’t connote enough violence. Director Nima Nourizadeh has simultaneously captured both every parent’s and every child’s worst nightmare. Every kid wants to be the one who has the coolest party, but most never actively pursue it for fear of exactly what happens in Project X. Where Nourizadeh excels as a filmmaker is by taking the outlandish activities to the Nth degree. The movie could easily have been just another unmemorable high school party movie. Instead, it evolved into a fantastical orgy of excess and absurdity that will become a dorm room classic when it is released on DVD.
To be fair, Nourizadeh and writers Matt Drake and Michael Bacall cut some serious corners in terms of storytelling and the acceptable guidelines of the found-footage genre. For instance, there is a running confrontation with a neighbor named Rob (Rob Evors) who is upset by the party’s growing numbers and obscene noise level. While it makes sense that a neighbor would be angry, why is only one neighbor angry? Thomas lives in a pretty populous area and the houses are close together. Rob’s continued appearances only serve to point out that many more neighbors would actually be perturbed and calling the cops.
The film also stretches the audience’s suspension of disbelief just a little too much in terms of the single-camera approach. Several times in the film, the action is clearly being caught by multiple cameras, and some shots are too steady and clear to be attributed to a high school kid’s talent as a cinematographer.
These minor errors are inconsequential, however, because Project X is just too much fun to care. Thanks to the movie, we can live vicariously through the characters and witness both a legendary party and the chaos that transpires as a result. | Matthew Newlin