I guess I'm old now, because I had my first "Won't someone think of the children?!" moment while watching Project X. I didn't anticipate hating the movie for that reason; I thought I'd hate it because it's terrible. My expectations were actually somewhat subverted on that score. The film is competently made, employing a more effective use of found footage than any film of the past few years. The screenplay is good, raising the stakes steadily and delivering a worthy pay-off. Several of the jokes land. The leads, while playing detestable little shits, play them well. But make no mistake: Project X is evil and it must be destroyed.
The film opens with Costa (Oliver Cooper) arriving at Thomas' (Thomas Mann) house in the morning, explaining to videographer Dax (Dax Flame) that they are embarking on a legendary experiment for Thomas' 18th birthday: namely, Project X. Costa hired Dax from the A/V department to film the day's events, and that explanation coupled with an opening title card tidily dispense with the eternal found footage question of "why?" Thomas' parents are going out of town and Thomas, Costa and their friend JB plan to throw an epic party that will forever supplant their high school legacies as losers - for the remaining month or two these losers have in high school.
We see enough of their respective days at school to understand that they are, indeed, unpopular. Most of the (unfathomably attractive) girls at their school have no idea who they are, and that could certainly create resentment toward the fairer and more elusive sex. But the kids - mostly Costa, although JB and Thomas are complicit by virtue of never seeming to notice or mind - use the words "bitches," "whores" and "sluts" constantly. The mass invite text Costa sends to the school reads something like: "Party at Thomas' tonight. Hot bitches dress like it. Ugly chicks stay home." Costa frequently reminds his cohorts that they must all "get pussy" that night. Not get laid - get pussy. There is a wide and unseemly distinction.
Project X is the male gaze substantiated and concentrated into ninety sweaty minutes. The women in the film - aside from the one good girl, of course - exist as nothing but upskirt shots and exposed tits, sideways come hither glances at the camera and gyrating asses. The most gorgeous girl at the party decides on a whim to nail the scrawny birthday boy; we're not treated to a single moment from her perspective or even one line of dialogue that makes this remotely plausible. The way these guys talk about the girls, the way they look at them, the way Dax's camera presents them, validates every misogynistic tendency a high school boy may be capable of feeling. Project X celebrates and rewards that misogyny. Although rated R, the film is clearly aimed at horny 15-year-olds who will sneak into the theater holding a ticket for The Lorax, and I legitimately dread the message they will take from this movie.
If Project X were less aptly produced or less funny, it wouldn't be so dangerous. And it is funny at times: a gag with two twelve-year-old security guards at the party never gets old. Nearly all the rest of the humor is sexist, homophobic, racist or mean-spirited toward overweight people, little people, old people or dogs, but I laughed reluctantly at the tiny percentage of jokes that weren't discriminatory. The film is cleverly shot and the tension escalates at an alarming rate as the party gets more out of hand than the audience could possibly imagine. Project X presents that very specific feeling of being too drunk or too high perfectly, projecting a feeling of messy, sweaty, crowded anxiety that's surprisingly effective.
But the movie doesn't take that anxiety to a responsible place. Terrible things happen in this movie, but our leads are never punished for it. These kids are actually rewarded. Like everything Todd Phillips touches, Project X teaches the audience that - after a few wacky hiccups - irresponsible, sexist, hateful men always get what they want. This is a movie filled with loathsome characters doing despicable things and reaping preposterous benefits from it. Project X might be sort of fun, but it sucks.