Since its birth the ‘found-footage’ film has taken on many forms, from horror all the way to superhero, and now it’s taken on the shape of a dinosaur, and one that’s been clumsily constructed from the dug up remains of older and better films. Almost as if it’s aware of its own originality it rushes through a series of inauthentic news snippets that suggest that a Loch Ness monster-esque creature has been sighted in the Congo. Enter Jonathan Marchant (Dillane), a frowning Indiana Jones wannabe who assigns himself the task of searching for more signs of supposedly prehistoric life. Of course, searching for Nessy’s ancestors is never as easy as it should be and his quest is quickly disrupted by his affection-deprived teenage son Luke (Kane), who just so happens to have an array of video cameras at his disposable. It’s not exactly a spoiler to say that Jonathan and his team of hapless explorers get more than they bargained for and luckily Luke is there to document the whole disaster one shaky shot at a time.
In order for found-footage films to achieve a sense of authenticity they need performances that feel real and in-the-moment. Chronicle was perhaps slightly lacking when it came to this department, but it had a sense of wonderment that excused any weak-links in the cast. Here the story plods along in such a predictable direction that its artificial performances are stripped bare. It’s not like it has a credible setup to begin with so having pantomimic characters is inexcusable and something that totally prevents us from ever becoming invested in its amateurish world.
It’s an immensely unbalanced film, both in terms of story and tone. Seemingly important characters (including a potential love interest) are disposed of like tissues and with just as little compassion. It’s tough to decipher exactly what demographic it’s aiming at. The violence only ever alludes to gore, appearing to shy away merely for budgetary reasons and its attempts at humour are so misjudged and juvenile that they’d barely make it into the Beano. The ‘scary’ scenes are also completely devoid of suspense or horror, even as the characters run and cry it’s a bizarrely numb spectacle to behold. It basically makes an episode of the kids TV show Goosebumps look like The Exorcist.
But with its meagre budget it’s not quite as ugly as it could have been. There’s a brief period midway through where it has a couple of cute and clever ideas and as a result it almost feels like an underdog that you want to root for. It also has some impressive special effects in places, an area that’s clearly been given more attention than the direction. But by the time it reaches its final act it’s pretty much descended into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory as the characters’ actions and motives become increasingly laughable.
The Dinosaur Project isn’t a wholly abysmal effort; the effects are competent, it’s enjoyably experimental and it at least tries to have a good time. But as Jurassic Park taught us a long time ago, sometimes certain species are best left untouched.