Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown
The "found footage" film has, for the most part, stayed in the realm of the horror movie. The Blair Witch Project, [Rec] and Paranormal Activity have all experimented with the idea that what we're watching on screen has been filmed by one of the characters within the story – usually by somebody who seems to have a bad case of the shakes. And it works, more or less, conveying a sense of terror and dread with every wobble of the hand-held camera.
Project X makes use of this convention, only this time the horror is of a different sort in a story that will undoubtedly give all parents nightmares. No, this is not a film about ghosts and ghouls, but an unruly high-school party. Recalling those real-life bashes, where a quiet suburban house gets trashed after word spreads on social networking sites, Project X is liable to delight some teenagers with its highly irresponsible depiction of unadulterated carnage.
Produced by Todd Phillips, the man behind The Hangover, this falls way short of that film – both in terms of likeable characters and intricate plotting. With his parents away for the weekend celebrating their own wedding anniversary, Thomas (Thomas Mann) plans to stage his 17th birthday party at his family home. Clinging grimly to the bottom rungs of the complex social ladder that is high school, he and his friends, the foul-mouthed Costa (Oliver Cooper) and the nerdy JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), are desperate for the cool kids – well, actually any kids – to swing by.
Rather pointlessly, it's all being documented by their weird, near-silent Goth friend Dax (Dax Flame) – who conveniently manages to ghost his way into the background of the most intimate situations and, even at the height of the party, never gets bored with playing cameraman. Quite why the director Nima Nourizadeh went down this contrived path is unclear; if the raw aesthetic it provides suits the surrounding chaos, it frequently feels too self-conscious a device to allow the audience to settle. Like this generation's Animal House, only much wilder, there isn't much more to Project X than an attempt to stage one hell of a party. After Costa sends out an email blast in an attempt to drum up some numbers, word spreads and soon every teenager within a 50-mile radius seems to be heading to Thomas's house, much to the neighbours' terror. What follows is an epic get-together of Bacchanalian excess; it's just a pity the dozens of nubile extras look like they're having a better time than we are.
Scripted by Michael Bacall and Matt Drake, there are some moments that will make you smile. But typified by the scene where a dwarf gets shoved into an oven (don't worry, it's not turned on), the humour is rather aggressive and mean-spirited. Likewise, Thomas and his selfish cohorts aren't sweetly naive in the way the characters in Superbad or the American Pie films were. What is it they say? The best parties are the ones you can't remember. If only that were the case with this.