20 years after three teenagers disappeared in the wake of mysterious lights appearing above Phoenix, Arizona, unseen footage from that night has been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition.
Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of three teens who went into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town. They disappeared that night, and were never seen again. Now, on the twentieth anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has finally been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition. For the first time ever, the truth will be revealed.
"Phoenix Forgotten" is a creative and fun found footage film.
In 1999, "The Blair Witch Project" exploited the found footage film format more successfully than any movie before it and had people asking whether the events depicted really happened. In the ensuing years, of course, found footage has become old hat, which makes it pretty impressive that 2017's horror sci-fi mystery "Phoenix Forgotten" (PG-13, 1:20) has managed a twist on this formerly fresh film format that has audiences once again wondering whether what they're seeing on screen is real. The twist (not a spoiler, just a little background explanation) is that this movie takes a mystery based on actual events and builds a story around those events that makes what you're seeing seem real, or at least plausible.
On March 13, 1997, a group of lights appeared in the night sky, moving across Arizona (visible from the Nevada border to northwestern Mexico) and were stationary over Phoenix. Thousands of people saw the lights and many claim to have seen the outline of a V-shaped unidentified flying object which moved silently through the sky. The U.S. Air Force explained the stationary lights as flares from one of their planes on a training flight, but no one has been able to explain away the set of lights that appeared to be part of an object that reportedly crossed most of the state. "Phoenix Forgotten" draws on the true story of three teenagers who disappeared while investigating the lights and utilizes fictional footage.
Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is looking for her older brother and has been for 20 years. She returns to her hometown of Phoenix to make a documentary on the disappearance of her brother, Josh, and his high school friends, Ashley and Mark, who disappeared after they went into the desert to try gathering some video of the strange lights that had recently appeared over their town. Sophie interviews her parents, Steve (Clint Jordan) and Caroline (Cyd Strittmatter), who got divorced because of the stress and their different ways of dealing with the mystery of their son's disappearance. She also talks on camera to Ashley's parents (Jeanine Jackson and Matt Beidel), a teacher (Ana Dela Cruz) from her brother's high school, a police officer who investigated her brother's disappearance, the press secretary of the former governor (who had publicly mocked the UFO speculation at first) and a reluctant U.S. Air Force officer.
The main thing Sophie has to go on are home videos of the appearance of The Phoenix Lights (during the party for her 6th birthday) and the tape from the camcorder that was left in the back of Mark's car, which was found abandoned by the side of the road. Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) was the kind of kid who always had his video camera glued to the side of his face. Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) is a member of the high school's AV Club, who does news reports around the school and whom Josh would like to get to know better. Mark (Justin Matthews) is their cocky and adventurous friend whose main qualification for going on this little adventure is that he has access to an SUV. We see footage of the three friends as they witness and discuss that unexplained light show, interview some local witnesses and prepare for their excursion into the desert. Not much happens that night and then the tape suddenly ends. That doesn't make sense to Sophie. She isn't satisfied with all the dead ends. She's sure that the truth is out there.
"Phoenix Forgotten" is a creative and fun found footage film. Telling this story in the form of a documentary allows for variety the use of background footage, old news reports, new interviews and found footage, all of which are skillfully woven together by first-time feature film director Justin Barber (who also co-wrote the script, with T.S. Nowlin, writer of the "Maze Runner" movies). Telling this story this way also allows Barber to side-step the pitfalls of the found footage format. Using unknown actors gives a movie of this kind a sense of realism and this cast is talented enough to make it work. Like its spiritual ancestor, "The Blair Witch Project", this film drags at times, but has an exciting climax. "B+"
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