Phoenix Forgotten (2017)
On Match 13, 1997, Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts) records what he believes to be a UFO sighting (or the “Phoenix Lights“) during his sister Sophie’s sixth birthday party. Eventually, Josh’s obsession with the Phoenix Lights drives him to find more answers, so Josh’s friends agree to go with him into the desert to record more footage with hopes of catching some proof. Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez) , Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews), and Josh mysteriously disappear after the expedition, and without any new clues or leads, the police decide to give up on the search.
Twenty years later, Sophie (Florence Hartigan) returns home with her boyfriend, Dan (Matt Biedel) to make a documentary about what happened to Josh, Ashley, and Mark. Sophie suspects a cover-up from the police, the government, and the military, and she believes Josh used a second camcorder. Sophie is looking for closure and answers for what really happened to her brother and his friends, and the discovery of the missing camcorder brings her one step closer to the truth…..
Phoenix Forgotten nails the documentary style of filmmaking. The interviews, the conspiracy theories, the footage from the local news channels about the Phoenix Lights and what happened to Mark, Josh, and Ashley, and the home movies (Sophie’s birthday, everything leading up to the expedition, etc.). You’ll also see how the Phoenix Lights and Josh’s disappearance affected everyone around him, including Sophie’s parents (they divorced, because Sophie’s father couldn’t let go off the possibility of Josh returning home), Ashley’s parents, and the community.
Phoenix Forgotten has a strong sense of realism during the documentary stages, because you’re supposed to be watching something that’s “real,” but it’s a double-edged sword for me. The Poughkeepsie Tapes used a similar formula, with the interviews and footage from the local news stations to play up the realism, but they also took a break every now and then to show tapes from The Water Street Butcher’s murderous rampage. That’s one of my bigger problems with Phoenix Forgotten: it’s too straightforward and monotonous. I’ve seen my fair share of faux documentary style horror films, and for the most part, Phoenix Forgotten falls into the category of a tedious snooze fest.
Honestly, nothing really happens until the movie passes the 1hr. And 2min. mark, and while the big finale is tense and a real nail-biter, I can’t say it was worth the wait. Phoenix Forgotten’s runtime clocks in at 1hr. and 27min., so you’re just basically waiting around for a LONG time to see what happened on the second tape throughout the movie. I just think back to some of the promo ads and commercials for the Paranormal Activity films, where they promoted “the last twenty minutes will mess you up for life!” line and over and over again, but the PA films and their finales never lived up to the hype for me.
You’re lead to believe the footage on the second tape is too horrifying and shocking to be released, and they show Sophie’s disturbed reaction after watching the second tape without showing it to push this idea, so naturally you’re expecting a big, satisfying payoff. Sophie and Dan going into the desert in an attempt to find Josh, Ashley, and Mark would’ve been an incredibly stupid storyline (something similar to Blair Witch ‘16), so of course Sophie trying to find the tape was the more logical route to take at an attempt for a satisfying payoff, but it’s a case of too little, too late for me.
If we’re talking about gruesomeness, you’ll see burned and mutilated animal corpses, and that’s it, and Phoenix Forgotten is just another forgettable low-budget (a reported $2.8 million) found-footage horror film based on true events. Whenever you see the based on true events or a real story tagline, you immediately have to take everything with a handful of salt, especially in horror films.
Phoenix Forgotten? Well, if we’re separating the faux documentary style presentation and the style of storytelling from what actually happened, I’d say Phoenix Forgotten is about 90% BS, and maybe I can buy into the other 10% actually happening. And that’s limited to Sophie returning home, talking to her parents, the footage from Sophie’s birthday party as a kid, and Josh, Ashley, and Mark preparing to go into the desert. Everything else reeks of fabricated over the top cinematic BS, certain occurrences are too convenient, and then there’s the second camcorder. So I’m supposed to believe an ordinary camcorder fell from outer space or the highest point in the sky, and SOMEHOW the tape is still intact, and the camcorder itself is not smashed to pieces? Come on now. The camcorder is noticeably damaged, and I would’ve been okay with that, but I just rolled my eyes, when Dan played the tape.
All in all, you’re not missing anything special with Phoenix Forgotten (originally titled Phoenix). I remember watching the trailer (good trailer, but it spoils the end of the movie) in theaters, and I actually wanted to see it. From what I remember, Phoenix Forgotten was supposed to have a wider release, and Ridley Scott is a producer here, but they cut it down to a limited (very limited) theatrical release. Justin Barber (the director) deserves some credit for a fine-tuned documentary style film, but it’s almost impossible to ignore the annoying shaky cam stuff, the camera glitches, and all the other usual tropes in a found-footage horror film.