Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of excitement about films in the “found footage” genre, and I think my jaded attitude would need a new spin on the story being told as well as a good story to hook me again.
Phoenix Forgotten has managed to do that, to the point of getting me to ask questions and wonder what is and isn’t being said — basically, the movie hooked into my inner geek and got its imagination running.
The film starts out in the style of a real documentary, of a young woman on a journey for closure for herself and her family, to find out what happened to her older brother around the 20 year anniversary of his disappearance in the Arizona desert. In March 1997, not long after the Phoenix Lights phenomenon dominated the headlines and fueled a speculative frenzy about whether they were a hoax, a military operation being covered up, or a genuine UFO sighting, three teenagers conducting their own investigation into what everyone saw vanish without a trace, save for a vehicle abandoned along a desert road.
Coming home to help clean out her mom’s house before it’s sold, Sophie uncovers a trove of video tapes her brother Josh made, both the original footage recorded of the lights, and footage filmed over the next few weeks during his investigation into what the truth behind them might be. Following a variety of clues, Josh and his friends Ashley and Mark take a trip out into the desert following a second sighting of the lights when Josh can identify where they were spotted flying over. What happened to them, why they never came home that night, has haunted their families for 20 years.
Sophie chooses to follow her brother’s steps, hoping that uncovering what really happened may bring some healing and closure to her family’s pain. The documentary style of her interviews with the various people involved in the original search for the missing teens adds a level of curiosity and intrigue to the story, and hearing their speculations, the changed theories and perspectives that 20 years have added to everyone’s assumptions about what may have happened, and what people believed had happened at the time, makes for a compelling line that draws the viewer in.
There’s a reason why the true crime shows on Investigation Discovery have an addictive quality to them, and the first half of this film hooks into that quite brilliantly.
The mystery deepens when the last videotape surfaces, unseen and unknown to the original investigators into the disappearance, and its contents take Sophie’s search for the truth in a different direction. That’s when the movie switches to “found footage” mode, and we get to see what happened during those last few hours before Josh, Ashely and Mark vanished. Fortunately, the story doesn’t slack off and fall into the typical tropes of the found footage niche, and leaves us as viewers with far more questions than answers about what happened to them, and we all know how those ambiguities lead to some of the most entertaining geek arguments.
Whether you’re a staunch believer in UFO’s, a skeptic, or somewhere in between, the story and the style of Phoenix Forgotten may appeal to you as well.
Rating: 3.5 stars
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…
CAST: Florence Hartigan, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews, Luke Spencer Roberts
DIRECTOR: Justin Barber
WRITER: T.S. Nowlin and Justin Barber
PRODUCERS: Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin, Ridley Scott, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon