Film Review: Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Film Review: Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

by C. Michael McGannon

Phoenix Forgotton (2017)

Written by: Justin Barber, T.S. Nowlin

Directed by: Justin Barber

Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews

Produced by: Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, The Martian), Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin, Mark Canton

Synopsis (from which also has a cool little “Confirmed UFO Sightings” counter):

Based on the shocking, true events of March 13th, 1997, when several mysterious lights appeared over Phoenix, Arizona. This unprecedented and inexplicable phenomenon became known as “The Phoenix Lights”, and remains the most famous and widely viewed UFO sighting in history.

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…

Review by C. Michael McGannon:

I was pleasantly surprised by Phoenix Forgotten. These days, found footage horror films seem a risky decision, after the genre seemed to explode with popularity, then implode as most of these movies seemed to follow the same general set of rules: Make the camera vomit-inducing-shaky, show little to nothing, and, um…well…show little to nothing.

On our current season of The Monster Guys Podcast, we’ve been dealing with a lot of cryptids, and as paranormal phenomena seem to group together often, we’ve also run into our fair share of UFO stories. For those who haven’t heard much about the movie, or for those unfamiliar with specific UFO sightings and events, Pheonix Forgotten revisits that night in 1997 when thousands of people purportedly saw a set of lights in the sky that, to this day, have no concrete explanation.

A moment about scriptwriting and movie trailers …

There’s a general rule that when you create a trailer, you take the majority of your shots from a middle section of the film. That seems obvious enough—you don’t want to have too much of the intro or outro of the actual film spoiled in your trailer, right? And a lot of the “action” shots are in the middle.

What was marketed to me was an alien Blair Witch Project, or maybe something along the lines of The Unidentified Flying Blair Witch. What I actually got was a sister’s in-depth and searching documentary of her brother, who has now been missing for two decades after the events of the Phoenix Lights. Most of the found footage you see in the trailer is from the last half hour of the film.

To me, it was a ballsy move, and not knowing quite what to expect it ran the risk of being boring minutes after the introductory scenes of the film. But the risk paid off, delivering a pretty convincing documentary, building up, slow-burn style, to the discovery of that final tape.

I won’t say too much about the film’s conclusion. I will say, it takes the found footage trope and uses it well to an advantage, knowing exactly how much to show and when.

While never jumping out of my seat from fright, I found myself questioning what it would have been like to experience what I was watching on camera, and the idea was unnerving and stuck with me.

The film seems to suffer from some disconnected ideas, both in descriptions of the UFOs and in the choice of different camera styles—i.e., stark present vs. past grainy film quality—but on a deeper level, Phoenix Forgotten stands up as a worthwhile venture back into the world of found footage horror.

To Watch or Not To Watch, That Is The Question!

Michael’s recommendation: Watch! It has some flaws and, like I said, takes risks that not everyone will enjoy, but certainly is a step above the rest of its plagued genre. This is found footage done right, with good build up, some charming performances, and a payoff that relies less on jump scares and more on digging under your skin.

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Check out books and other media by C. Michael McGannon & D.C. McGannon, The Monster Guys.