Todd Phillips produces this tale of three young nobodies who abuse an empty house to host, to use the poster’s words, “the party you’ve only dreamed about.” And with Nima Nourizadeh’s directorial debut, it’s hard to interrogate beyond the poster’s succinct explanation, because there genuinely isn’t much else on offer here. Whilst there is something admirable about the filmmakers’ unapologetic ode to shallow hedonism, it doesn’t leave much satisfaction as an audience member.
Thomas Mann stars as apprehensive teen Thomas whose friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) goes to extreme lengths to ensure his seventeenth birthday party puts them firmly on the social map. As wave after wave of teenagers descend upon Thomas’ suburban home, the party spirals out of control and onto the streets. As the title suggests, Project X comes across as experimental in nature. The film presents itself as the compiled footage of the ever-expanding number of partygoers, capturing every last event of the party from hell in gruesome detail. It’s a gimmick no doubt employed to inspire a feeling of vicarious involvement with the film, but instead proves as alienating as flicking through the Facebook photos of a friend of a friend.
Additionally, there’s the problem of found footage being associated almost unanimously with the horror genre. Whilst this doesn’t mean it cannot be implemented elsewhere, it’s hard to suppress the feeling that perhaps the filmmakers felt compromised to at least tip a hat to the tropes of such films when Project X’s party boils over to its ridiculously over the top conclusion. With found footage, there’s always the expectation that something abnormal will happen, and whilst successful horror films will build gradually to such a conclusion, Project X throws it in too abruptly and too unbelievably.
As previously discussed in this blog, the success of found footage relies on its ability to convince the audience of its authenticity. The problem with Project X is it immediately starts with a Jackass style warning against copying the stunts in the film, revealing that they were performed by professional stunt people. Of course the filmmakers cannot be blamed for wishing to insure themselves against copycats, it’s just a shame that it appears immediately before a Blair Witch style enforcement of the film’s authenticity in the form of a cheeky apology to the neighbouring residents of the party house. It’s a juxtaposition that’s hard to shake off in the opening minutes of the film.
Similarly, the filmmakers’ decision to hire relatively unknown actors is an understandable but not entirely successful move. There’s stiltedness between the three leads which can’t be helped by the lazy characterisation. There’s Costa the crude and obnoxious troublemaker, J.B the bespectacled ‘weird’ one and Thomas himself, the awkward mediator between the two. Whilst it’s no surprise that a teen film would use stereotypes, the whole first half hour reeks so much of a post-Superbad cash in that it leaves Nourizadeh’s effort lacking in comparison. There’s also none of the heart or warmth behind the vulgarity as there was in that Apatow production, or even in Phillips’ own The Hangover. Things come to a particularly nasty taste when twice the audience is forced into the position of peeping tom, as one partygoer aims his camera through a closet door, zooming in on his friend and a token hot girl getting steamy. It’s an uncomfortable excuse to make sure we know everything that occurs.
The soundtrack is brilliant, but then of course it would be. Once the film’s party commences, Project X turns into a series of music based montages. It’s all so ridiculously reminiscent of a plethora of music videos you half expect will.i.am to jump in the pool proclaiming “I GOT A FEELIN’!” Essentially, if you’ve seen either a Skins advert or the adidas commercial where David Beckham, Katy Perry, Missy Elliott et al attend a house party together, then you’ve seen the bulk of Project X. Heck, if you’ve seen the film’s very own trailer, you’ve already seen Project X. Just throw in more exposed breasts.
Ultimately Project X is as shallow as its characters, and with all too many moments of discomfort, it’s hard to root for, let alone party with.