The found footage subgenre is something I cherish and can appreciate. The Blair Witch Project will always remain as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. I watched it again a couple years ago alone during the night and I had to turn the lights back on and give myself some time before going to bed. That was a movie that knew what was hiding in the dark should never be seen and only insinuated. The monster is never revealed and the ambiguous ending left plenty to the imagination. It also kept fans like myself scouring the internet for clues and theories, along with purchasing all the books and merchandise such as some scary as hell video games. After the huge success of The Blair Witch Project, several other films utilized the same filmmaking techniques usually to poor results. The rare accomplishments did pop out, such as the Paranormal Activity franchise and the cult favorite Taking of Deborah Logan. Recently, that subgenre has died down quite a bit and we now have PHOENIX FORGOTTEN.
I really didn’t know much about this movie nor had I heard of it until I saw it listed in theaters while buying tickets for something else. The synopsis emphasized that it was produced by Ridley Scott and had some connection to an infamous 1997 sighting. I felt like an idiot due to not having any idea what the description was referring to, but I looked it up of course. In case you’re lazy and not sure if you need to know prior to watching, don’t worry. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN succeeds in setting up the story and informing viewers of the apparently much reported event.
In March of 1997, hundreds of witnesses reported seeing the same pattern of lights during the night in the sky in Phoenix, Arizona and the source was never explained. This became known as the “Phoenix Lights,” and attracted many theories and unproven explanations for the phenomenon. One of those people who were obsessed is our subject, Josh, a red-headed teen who aspires to make his own X-FILES like discovery. He gets together two of his friends to revisit the sightings as a second one does appear. He believes he knows the location of a future third sighting and makes his way there where the three are never to be heard from again. Now the present day, we have Josh’s younger sister, Sophie, is an aspiring filmmaker who believes she can find more to the story. The first half of the film plays like a traditional documentary as she interviews locals and authorities who assisted in the investigation of the disappearances.
This is where the movie deserves praise. The presentation and performances are so believable that I was unsure if what I was watching was part of the faux aspect of the film or reused footage. As someone not too familiar with the sighting, it made PHOENIX FORGOTTEN all the more interesting. However, the format gets dismissed during the last act for the familiar shaky cam footage we all hate. The film even utilizes my personal pet peeve which is when something is about to revealed, the footage glitches to make us believe it wasn’t the budget that’s preventing us from getting a good look. Without spoilers, we do get some interesting peaks at the truth, but the ending leaves much to be desired. I’m all for the unexplained, but Blair Witch at least left us scared and unsure of exactly what we saw.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN has a strange blend of what works and what doesn’t work in found footage. That blend makes it hard to recommend, but I didn’t regret watching it. The first half of the movie is worth the trip and I wish it played a bigger part in the film. The home video release comes with a pointless interview with the Sophie character and a seven minute making of that doesn’t provide much more knowledge than the film itself provides. There is a director’s commentary for those wanting a more comprehensive insight. I can see a fan base out there for this film so I’m sure it will find its audience via social media and worth taking a look even as just a rental.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment