Review: Project X

(Nima Nourizadeh 2012, USA)
(Originally posted at Lost in the Multiplex)

Produced by mainstream delinquent Todd Phillips, most notably the helmer of renegade franchise demon The Hangover, Project X arrives in the midsts of a year in which the found footage subgenre has become the go-to option for filmmakers to harness an alternative, albeit overly gimmicky, spin on drowsy narrative tropes. Evoking this year’s modestly successful Chronicle through its exploration of a group of inquisitive teenagers battling forces beyond their collective control, Project X – the product of first-time filmmaker Nima Nourizadeh, takes the aforementioned gimmick and turns it in on itself, subjecting its audience to the nastiness of contemporary adolescence without a hint of irony or self-parody, causing the film to seemingly revel in the repulsion it so ignorantly boasts.

Supposedly pieced together from amateur clips recorded by a variety of sources, from video cameras to mobile phones, the film tells the story of three friends – responsible but timid Thomas (Thomas Mann), Jewish ne’er-do-well Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), a rotund numbskull with outwardly limited mental capacities – who set about selling their idealistic souls in an ill-conceived bid for a popularity that is, in true high school fashion, entirely fickle and reliant on the pangs of peer pressure. As Thomas’s uptight parents go away for the weekend, Costa and JB lobby to stage a large party at their plush house for their friend’s birthday, much to Thomas’s initial reservations, inviting their school’s elite group of easily swayed teens and courting as much drugs and alcohol as possible, paving the way for a nightmarish soirée that gets progressively out of hand.

Shamelessly pillaging the concept and indeed much of the characters (the troika of protagonists are cheap and debased carbon copies) from 2007’s far superior Superbad, to which it owes a large debt, Project X is repellent and tactless on almost every level, parading around a bogus concept that does little to highlight any forms of artistic temperament, instead opting to expose a hellish shindig that the filmmaker’s clearly believe is analogous of a good time. Perhaps on some level visualising the equivalent of a sexually frustrated teenage boy’s wet dream, the party sequence, which takes up a large chunk of the film’s thankfully miniscule 88 minute runtime, is a den of inequity whose guests trash everything in sight, throw midgets in the oven and generally have little regard for humanity outside of their sozzled and nihilistic world views. At one stage a neighbour, concerned by the excessive noise and the sleep pattern of his newborn child, tries to convince the partygoers to shut it down, only to be attacked by a taser-wielding pre-teen hired to ward off anyone attempting to call a police force whose authority is eventually diminished when the party veers off into crazy and improbable directions. If Superbad had any semblance of verisimilitude in its depiction of the frustrations of teenage virginity, teaching its central characters lessons in life and love, Project X squanders this in favour of increasingly disgusting scenes of mayhem and carnage in an environment where life lessons are seen as weak and effeminate.

Embodying the film’s loathsome, morally questionable outlook is Costa, a machiavellian dreamer who would do anything to become a big time player in his little league surroundings. He is seen giving bottles of vodka to babies, openly mocking his friends and stealing gnomes filled with ecstasy tablets from drug barons, and he is to some degree treated as a heroic figure standing up for his minor social position. The characters around him are similarly relentless in their intoxicated binge, bringing to mind the characters in Larry Clark’s controversial investigation of alienated youth in Kids, yet lacking that film’s raucous and scathing subtext. In the film’s would-be scene of coming of age realisation, the protagonists, standing gallantly on a roof, look down with unabashed glee at the cheering crowd of thousands, gazing into the precipices of the hell they have created with a bashful smirk, as if mirroring the filmmaker’s stance on the outside of the film, peering in and raising a glass to their infantile invention. Project X is conceited and loathsome, and proud of it.

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