phoenix forgotten | justin barber | t.s. nowlin | florence hartigan | luke spencer roberts | chelsea lopez | found footage | found-footage | aliens | mystery | sci-fi | sci fi | thriller | united states | justin matthews | clint jordan | cyd strittmatter | roberto medina
Film: Phoenix Forgotten
Director: Justin Barber
Writer: T.S. Nowlin and Justin Barber
Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts and Chelsea Lopez
This was a film that I first heard about as it was making its festival rounds. I was intrigued by it as I heard it was a found-footage film that was possible about aliens. I also know this is a phenomena that really did happen, so grounding it in reality I’m all about. The synopsis is 20 years after three teenagers disappeared in the wake of mysterious lights appearing above Phoenix, Arizona, unseen footage from that night has been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition.
We start off at Sophie’s sixth birthday party. The young girl is played by Serendipity Lilliana. The year is 1997. Her older brother, Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts), is filming it. He is going around interviewing everyone and then the film stops.
It then shifts to the present. Sophie grows up to be Florence Hartigan. We learn that her brother as well as Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews) went missing. Sophie returns to visit her parents, Steve (Clint Jordan) and Caroline (Cyd Strittmatter). They are now divorced from the stress of Josh disappearing. Sophie is back to do a documentary about the disappearance.
She goes about interviewing the police, those that were searching, her parents as well as the parents of Ashley. Intertwined in her investigation, she also shows the documentary that her brother was making back in 1997. We see the rest of the footage of the birthday party, where Josh filmed the real event known as the ‘Phoenix Lights’. His footage is on the news and he meets Ashley during it. They want to get to the bottom of the event.
It is through Sophie’s investigation into what happened to him that he might not have gotten lost in the desert like the police believe. There could be something more and a local teacher might have found a camera that explains exactly what happened.
Now I wanted to go a bit vague on the recap of it, because there isn’t a lot to the story. It is really a faux documentary with a little bit of Inception in that there is a film within the film. There was a documentary that Josh was making about the lights and he disappeared during that. Sophie then decides to make a documentary about that and I think it really is an interesting concept. The issue that arises from this is that found-footage requires someone to constantly have a camera. There are some slight issues in this where I don’t believe they would be allowed to film. It wasn’t enough to really bother me, but this idea plagues a lot of these types of films.
Something I really like about this film is that there is some truth to it. There really was an event of the Phoenix Lights that still to this day hasn’t been explained. I like that this really does seem to ground this in reality. It was also pretty solid at idea that they don’t immediately think that it is alien related until about halfway through. This isn’t really a spoiler, as it gets introduced in the first 20 minutes that they think it is a UFO they saw in the sky. I just really enjoyed though that Sophie really starts to wonder as she gets more information in her investigation.
The thing to move to next is the pacing of the film, which I think is really good. I thought it really got into it, doesn’t waste time. It sucked me in and I got lost that this wasn’t really a true documentary of what happened in the two time periods. It does build the necessary tension for me and when we get to the climax, I could feel my anxiety go up with what happened. I think it was done in a real way that was quite believable. I like how the film ends and the implications of releasing the video, especially after the interview with the military official in the Air Force.
The next thing to move to is the acting of the film. I thought it was good for the type of film that we have. None of them blew me away, but it doesn’t have to. They were grounded in reality. Hartigan I feel bad for as she really just wants to know what happened to her older brother. I got that feeling from the things she is doing that this really affected her life as well as her parents. Roberts I also felt bad for as you can see he has a crush on Ashley. We don’t get to see a lot of him as he is holding the camera a lot, but we can hear him and get the idea. Lopez and Matthews were both solid in their performances. I also felt bad for Jordan and Strittmatter. I thought they both seem like partners that are really struggling with what happened to their child. It is believable that it ruined their lives dealing with the event. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed as well.
As to the effects of the film, there aren’t a lot of them. To be honest, I’m glad that it didn’t, because it really makes the film seem more real. I do have to commend the film for making the quality of the film look like it would in the 1990’s. There are also some imperfections during the climax. It was subtle touch as to what is happening. The only real effects happen at this point and I thought it was very well done. This was really solid aspect of the film.
The last thing to touch on would be the soundtrack of the film. For the most part, it is just ambient sound from what is happening. That does make it feel more real. There is some music though, but it didn’t take me out of it. Since this is a documentary, I could see that being added in post-production, as I’ve seen real ones that do this. I do feel that this part of the film was fine.
Now with that said, I really enjoyed this film. I came in knowing very little about it and I was pleasantly surprised by what I got from this one. I like the idea of a documentary being made about a documentary that was being made 20 years ago. Grounding the disappearance in the real events that happened was something I liked. We don’t get a lot of these types of films with possible alien abductions. I like that it is gradually getting to this conclusion and not jumping right to it. I think the pacing was good and the climax was solid. The acting really helps to bring this to life and make it feel real. The effects are pretty subtle which also helps as does the soundtrack of the film. I know found-footage is hit or miss, but I really enjoyed this one. I found it to be good film and would recommend it if you like the subgenre.
My Rating: 8 out of 10