Call it Can't Hardly Wait for adolescent sociopaths or a horror movie for parents and anyone else who doesn't think having their peaceful neighborhood firebombed in the name of teen awesomeness is such a good idea, Project X is the next "found footage" movie, after Chronicle, to try pushing the genre forward into... well, something.
It's a "one crazy night" film. And the crazy night in question involves the life-changing birthday party of not-exactly-popular Thomas (Thomas Mann). Held while his parents are out of town and planned with horny, frenzied energy by his bad-influence friend Costa (Oliver Cooper), the event quickly turns from typical teenage debauchery into an insanely hyperactive fantasia of escalating destruction, an Apocalypse Now of property damage and throw-up. Like what would happen if the bad behavior cult film Over the Edge were even harsher and a comedy, the action here presents itself as more immediate and dangerous thanks to you-are-there cinematography that can be traced directly back to artists like Larry Clark, Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley and Ed Templeton, guys who pointed their cameras, documentary-style, at the young, sexy, wasted and irresponsible.
Everything on screen feels dirty and ready to burst with horrible consequences. And that's what makes it so wrong and seductive. It taps into every young person's anxiety over feeling left out while the cool kids are doing something better across town, as well as the innate need to feel that you've participated in something epic and legendary. Consequently, there will be plenty of adults who'll freak out over the nonjudgmental tone the movie affords its characters' puke-centric activities, and they're probably the same adults who've made The Hangover movies a big hit.
Funny thing about that: Todd Phillips is the man behind this and those Hangover films. And if you go all the way back to his first feature, the documentary Hated about self-destructive punk rock legend G.G. Allin, you'll see Phillips' fascination with young people who push things too far. As producer of this first effort from director Nima Nourizadeh, you can feel his guiding hand shoving everything over the cliff. There's no such thing as too much for him and probably the only reason there are no scenes of people setting their own hair on fire while eating potato chips that are also on fire is because some knucklehead already did that on YouTube and now it's boring.
Even more daring, unlike its teen party movie predecessors, nobody behind the camera seems all that concerned with making you like these kids. Save for a semisweet subplot about the longtime female friend (Kirby Bliss Blanton) Thomas finally, drunkenly, selfishly hooks up with mid-film, the action makes almost no pit stops into sensitive feelings. These are children of privilege who have no sense of right or wrong when their fun is at stake, and the movie makes no plea for you to accept their innate humanity because none is on display. The boys are obnoxious, sexed-up jerks, the girls are ready to take off their tops pretty much immediately and all of them want to binge drink, smoke weed and gobble up as much E as possible. And that, the filmmakers seem to be saying, is fine for one night, even if half the block is in ruins by morning. So if, when the credits roll, it all leaves you feeling an angry sense of moral indignation, then the movie won and you missed the party.