PG-13, 96 mins.
2017, PG-13, 96 mins.
Florence Hartigan as Sophie / Chelsea Lopez as Ashley / Justin Matthews as Mark / Luke Spencer Roberts as Josh
Directed by Justin Barber / Written by Barber and T.S. Nowlin
appetite for found footage films has been seriously waning over the
years, and very few recent examples (like PROJECT
ALMANAC and INTO THE STORM)
haven't given me any serious reason to renew my past enthusiasm for this tired
and rapidly running out of gas genre.
My overall appetite for found footage films has been seriously waning over the years, and very few recent examples (like PROJECT ALMANAC and INTO THE STORM) haven't given me any serious reason to renew my past enthusiasm for this tired and rapidly running out of gas genre.
is yet another example of the found footage thriller that appropriates most of its
aesthetic accouterments (and overall narrative from one very famous one)
without really doing anything fresh or revitalizing.
Instead of intrepidly and creatively taking a genre on critical
life support and injecting some much needed life into it, the makers of
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN are simply regurgitating stale and overused troupes.
But the core
premise of the film is indeed compelling and worthy of exploration.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN looks to past headlines for inspiration in the
form of a massive UFO sighting over Phoenix on March 13, 1997, during which
time its citizens - and even the state Governor - all reported witnessing a very bizarre formation of lights that peppered the
sky...that then abruptly vanished. Witnesses
further claimed that the lights emanated no sound, but created a strange V-shape in the sky that could not be easily attributed to natural phenomena.
Predictably, the Air Force downplayed the incident, citing the lights
as flares dropped by their aircraft.
Even the Governor at the time laughed at the prospect of the lights
having an alien origin, which he intriguingly retracted years later and
described them as "otherworldly."
All of this serves as an expository preamble to the basic narrative thrust of PHOENIX FORGOTTEN, which actually contains two faux documentaries for the price of one. The first film within the film concerns some very inquisitive teenagers - Ashley (Chelsea Lopez), Mark (Justin Matthews) and Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) - that, in 1997, refused to believe that the "Phoenix Lights" were anything but extra-terrestrial in origin. They decided to pool their amateur low budget filmmaking talents and resources together to shoot a documentary about them journeying into the desert to get some much needed answers.
They vanished and were never heard from again.
Now, the second
fake doc within the film takes place in the present and concerns Josh's
little sister Sophie (now an adult, played by Florence Hartigan) that has
been haunted by the taped footage left behind by her sibling and his
friends, which barely and frustratingly failed to scratch the surface of
what happened to them back in 1997. Fuelled by a burning desire to get some closure about her
brother's mysterious disappearance and probable death, Sophie returns home
to shoot her very own doc about Josh and his missing friends by
interviewing family members, former school teachers, and even the
military. The truth, as Agent
Mulder always said, is out there, and predictably - and all too
conveniently - Sophie uncovers the eerie truth of what transpired on that
fateful evening 20 years ago that could rattle everyone's perceptions of
whether or not we are indeed alone in the universe.
There are a few
things that do work in PHOENIX FORGOTTEN's favor, the first of which being
the thanklessly strong performances by the trio of teen actors that make
up the 1997 found footage. Genre films like this are made or broken on the strength of
the actors and their collective abilities to make us believe that we're
watching real people interact awkwardly with one another on camera and not
just actors pathetically trying to come off as authentic people. The young performers in question have a palpable lived-in
chemistry that works in the film's favor (especially Chelsea Lopez, who
displays a commendable level of unforced naturalness on camera).
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN also boosts fairly involving opening sections
that mixes faux news reports of the teens disappearance with Sophie's
emotionally troubling journey of re-opening old family wounds in search
for the truth. On a level of
blending fact and fiction, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN gets off to a modestly
engrossing start and shows great promise.
The mystery of surrounding the vanishing of the adolescent UFO
devotees provides for a solid hook for the film, which is never dull as a
problem, though, with PHOENIX FORGOTTEN: This movie is woefully derivative
to its very core. Its
central story arc of three amateur filmmakers that obsess over their
potential supernatural/alien subject matter that journey into a desolate
and unpopulated area in the middle of the night completely segregated from
civilization, only then to disappear...follows the plot blueprint of THE
BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in meticulous, if not distracting, ways.
Substitute in aliens, spaceships and the desert for witches and the
forest and what we're essentially left with is another BLAIR WITCH copycat
that tries very little to sway away from that film's formulas.
All of the competently rendered performances that this film
contains is all for naught when the overall follow-through here reeks of
overt mimicry to a film that came out nearly two decades ago...and one
that has cast an unforgiving shadow on all other found footage films in
is also stylistically intolerable at times to simply watch.
That's not a total knock at first-time director Justin Barber, who
does generate ample suspense and creates a definitive and undulating
sensation of dread in a few key scenes.
No, the real issue here is that the fake footage shot by the teens
(in accurate era specific grainy and hazy camcorder stock) is a visual nightmare at
times to endure on the big screen. This
has to be the shakiest shaky cam found footage film I've ever seen; the
first person Hi8 footage shot by the late 90's teens is so hyper
aggressively chaotic, unhinged, and, well, shaky that I grew physical
disoriented and fatigued while trying to watch it.
Props need to be given to capturing the proper look and feel of
1990's analogue video formats, but the way the camera jerks up, down, side
to side, and seemingly everywhere makes many sequences in PHOENIX
FORGOTTEN an indecipherable mess. Movies rarely make me feel ill...but this one came awfully
And don't get me
started on one cockamamie plot development late in the film that involves
the miraculous reappearance of a lost and nearly destroyed camcorder that
contains a shockingly well preserved tape inside.
Equally head shaking is how a camera like this was returned to
where it was without anyone noticing despite the combined efforts of the
local police working in concert with the federal government and military
in doing an exhaustive search of the missing teens.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN frankly posed far too many logic defying
questions late in its narrative, so much so that the whole artificial
reality that it was trying to conjure up begins to implode in on itself
due to contrived scripting. By
the time the film reaches a boiling point and does show what happened to
those teens I found it very hard to give a damn.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN was produced by Ridley Scott, no stranger to alien themed films, as well as T.S. Nowlin and Wes Bowl, the writer/director tandem behind the underrated THE MAZE RUNNER. Those names plastered on the advertising for this film peaked my interests going in, but PHOENIX FORGOTTEN can't ultimately safe itself from being another disposable found footage entry that lacks innovation. The Phoenix Lights phenomenon is a contagiously enthralling subject that would make for a superb real documentary. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN squanders its own potential by drowning itself in cinema verite clichés, which only further proves that the found footage genre is one that really needs to be put out to pasture.