Phoenix Forgotten opens on Sophie’s (Florence Hartigan) 6th birthday party. Family members give testimonials to camera about Sophie; advice for her as she grows up. Then, a voiceover from Sophie begins the narrative. Her brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) and two of his friends went missing in the desert in 1997. Now, Sophie is returning home to make a documentary about his disappearance.
The film plays with framing through this setup. In 1997, Josh, obsessed with seeing lights in the Phoenix sky that may or may not be a UFO, starts filming a documentary himself, employing the help of aspiring journalist Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) to get to the bottom of the Phoenix Lights incident.
This footage is inserted within the present day footage of his sister. Parts of this frame narrative are interesting. Early on, Josh interviews people in the town about the lights. One or two of these interviews are interesting, particularly one with two believers of extraterrestrial existence.
But mostly this lengthy introduction is a monotonous Blair With Project style exposition dumping ground.
The mix of Blair Witch-era found footage and a more modern, semi-professional aesthetic helps the film from being entirely one-dimensional visually, but it still is a found footage film. It is not visually appealing.
The Blair Witch Project has been mentioned twice up to this point, so let’s address the purple elephant. This film is, in the frame story, a blatant formula lift from the seminal found footage film. The added layer of a documentary production trying to solve the mystery helps to keep the film from having the stigma of being a shameless ripoff. But the film, quite noticeably, takes its lead from Blair Witch.
With this in mind, Phoenix Forgotten is slow. Snail’s pace through the desert slow. Where Blair Witch at least had layers of suspense and dread building over the course of the film, Phoenix Forgotten is largely stagnant.
Nothing overly intriguing or investing happens in the movie leading up to the climax. This adds a layer of documentary realism to the film, but that doesn’t make what we are watching compelling.
With all the preamble, the climax needs to make up for a lot of lost ground. It doesn’t. Like what proceeds it, it meanders. Minor intriguing wrinkles and visual tricks aren’t enough to make the moment as a whole something worth the time that we have already put in leading to this point.
It doesn’t help any that none of the characters we are introduced to have any discernible voice or characterization. They all speak in the same curious, fascinated, or startled way. None of them have specific distinguishing traits that set them apart as characters of their own. The three teens in the desert are just a group of bodies waiting to be taken advantage of by whatever force is out there. And, as audience members, we couldn’t care less.
Phoenix Forgotten: D
Listen guys. I could make a pun on “forgotten” here. It would be so easy, and it would be warranted. I mean, I’m already finding it hard to remember the character’s names and the finer plot details of this tedious film.
But I’m bigger than that. Bigger. Than…
You thought Phoenix was forgotten? Wait ’til you see the movie!
Boom! Zing! Ya burnt!
Ahem, excuse me. Lost my professionalism for a second there.
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)