The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Chronicle, The Devil Inside…there have been a lot of so-called ‘found footage’ movies. Studios like them – it means they can shoot or buy in a film without spending much cash, and then harvest in potentially phenomenal profits. Many of these films have been advertised to their target audiences (generally teenagers) via cleverly orchestrated viral marketing campaigns, harnessing the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in order to drum up hype. The latest to employ both the ‘home-filmed’ camera technique and this intelligent way of marketing is Project X, a film about ‘the party you’ve only dreamed about’.
Set in a middle-class LA suburb, the film documents, using footage allegedly filmed by the characters, an outrageous party two friends (and a guy with a camera who remains rather mysterious throughout) throw for their best mate Thomas. They want to make him, and themselves, infinitely more popular. His parents are staying away for the night and have given him the permission to have a few friends round to celebrate his birthday. The party soon becomes bigger than they could ever have imagined.
The first part of the movie shows the three teenagers preparing for the night’s events – buying alcohol, organising security (in the form of two children) and buying drugs from an eccentric dealer. They also stage their own viral campaign across their school in order to make sure lots of popular people turn up. When the party begins, things go from large to epic, with around 1500 people jostling for space in the house, the pool, the garden and the surrounding neighbourhood.
During the planning stages of the party the guys talk at length about how the girls will be giving them blowjobs and offering themselves to be fingered. The birthday boy, Thomas, doesn’t seem as willing to take part in such conversations – he has his eye on one girl in particular – but the audience is treated, for an extended period of time, to extremely coarse descriptions of what the other guys plan on doing to their female guests.
The film’s attitude towards women is despicable. Save for one nice, and very forgiving, female friend of Thomas’s, all the girls in the film are portrayed as sluts desperate to take their clothes off and have degrading public sex.
When the girls arrived, they are a dream come true for our male leads. They take off their tops and expose their breasts, allow the friends to rub their faces in them as the camera zooms over them.
The leering misogyny and frequent homophobia isn’t surprising, as this project was produced by Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover and its appalling sequel. Phillips could be considered an auteur, and his identifiable authorial traits are nastiness, sleaze and discriminatory behaviour.
The antics we see taking place at the party are deliberately intended to shock, but are all portrayed as one big amazing fun-ride. Hollywood movies regularly like to spread the myth that marijuana smoking is a harmless recreational activity, but the makers of Project X decide to also glamorise the use of extremely dangerous Class A drugs. Even our sympathetic hero takes ecstasy.
Thankfully younger teenagers, who are open to persuasion from attractively marketed movies such as this, will be kept away from seeing Project X at the cinema due to its rightfully restrictive 18 certificate. The BBFC should be congratulated for recognising the very real and damaging effect this movie could have on young lives. Of course, when it is released on DVD, I’m sure underage viewings will take place.
If misogyny, offensive remarks about gay people and the normalising of extreme drug culture isn’t enough, you might enjoy seeing a clearly uncomfortable dog mistreated and put in dangerous situations by the party goers. People blow cannabis smoke in its face, shut it in draws, attach balloons to it – I’m sure a responsible company like Warner Bros would have monitored the animal handling on set, but the film does invite us to enjoy and laugh at the torment of a confused animal.
As the party spirals out of control, and police are called, the film finally decides to celebrate riot culture, with youths attacking police and citizens who want to stop their fun. Although filmed before August 2011, a lot of the scenes are reminiscent of the London riots of last summer. I’m sure the people who took part in that devastating surge of destruction and violence will love this movie.
Although rather short, at only 88 minutes, Project X is very boring. Once you’ve seen one segment of irresponsible, crude and harmful behaviour they become less shocking and repetitive. The film is supposed to be a comedy, but I wasn’t remotely amused by anything that took place. This may be a question of taste, however. I’m sure there are people who find sexism, animal cruelty and anti-social behaviour riotously amusing, and they are welcome to laugh away at the film to their hearts’ content. I’m very glad that I am not one of them.
There is some inspired direction from first-time filmmaker Nima Nourizadeh. The film is competently made, technically speaking, and the ‘found-footage’ technique is employed rather well at times. Nourizadeh clearly has talent. It’s a shame he wasn’t given a script good enough to showcase it in a more flattering light.
I will predictably be called moralistic and told to lighten up by people who do not share my views on this film. I don’t care. Project X is a horrible, nasty movie. It’s badly written, the characters are all, by the end, detestable and it desperately tries to cover up its near-plotless narrative with unsophisticated and unfunny shock-tactics. I’d be surprised if there’s a worst film put on general release this year.
Project X, directed by Nima Nourizadeh, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 18.