UFOs, aliens and government cover-ups can all be pretty entertaining stuff. When a film just uses that premise for a rather generic found footage flick, though, it can be rather dull.
“Phoenix Forgotten” is such a film.
The picture was inspired by an event in the late 90s where residents in Arizona reported seeing lights in a V formation over the city of Phoenix. It picks up the night of the incident with a family who happened to have their camcorder out for a birthday party and ended up getting the whole thing on tape.
We then skip ahead 20 years to the present day where the film introduces Sophie (Florence Hartigan), who’s making a documentary about the incident and its effect on her family. Through some exposition in the first act, it’s revealed that her brother became increasingly interested in the phenomenon and he and two friends went out to make their own documentary on the subject and then disappeared. From there on out, the movie shows Sophie uncovering what happened to her brother through the footage he shot.
A glaring problem with “Phoenix Forgotten” is how it’s structured from a present day standpoint. The issue is that at some points it appears like the documentary that the character Sophie is making, which makes up the overarching plot of the movie, is in the middle of production, with some sequences of dialogue being shot by the camerman that seem to just be there to fill gaps. At other points, though, the movie goes full on ‘mokumentary,’ as it appears that Sophie’s documentary is finished with interviews in professional settings and music added.
The result of this is a movie that has some pretty jarring transitional points. It’s a case where either having the entire film being a mokumentary or just being a straightforward third person investigation picture would have likely worked out better than trying to shove the two together.
This actually wasn’t the film’s weakest link, though. Instead, the major detriment is the footage included that was shot by Sophie’s brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts). These segments of the picture, especially in the final act, was an absolute ripoff of “The Blair Witch Project,” but instead of a witch in the woods it’s UFOs in the desert.
In the scenes made up of Josh’s footage from the 90s, there’s just some typical high-schooler dialogue, nothing much is actually revealed when they do go out exploring and it all leads up to a climax in the dark where some vague UFO activity takes place. The movie also had a very disappointing ending.
With all that said, it’s not as if the film was the worst to sit through as there were actually some bits and pieces here to keep an audience somewhat engaged. For example, the mystery aspect of what happened to Josh, the various interviews and the possibility of a military cover-up is fairly entertaining and can hold one’s interest.
In fact, I would have been more pleased if the majority of the film had stayed in the present and went further down the UFO conspiracy rabbit hole rather than just becoming a “Blair Witch” knock-off.
In the end, though, this one has a promising premise, a few thrills and some general intrigue but the overall execution in many areas just wasn’t very good. 2.4 out of 5.