Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Terror, Peril and some Language
Directed by: Justin Barber
Written by: Justin Barber & T.S. Nowlin
Starring: Chelsea Lopez, Florence Hartigan, Justin Matthews & Luke Spencer Roberts
If you type the words “found footage horror short” into YouTube’s search bar, over 600,000 videos will appear. Some of these shorts are good and others are utter garbage, but they only consume mere minutes of your time and don’t cost a penny to view. I guarantee that watching any of these shorts is more satisfying than sitting through PHOENIX FORGOTTEN. This film feels like a competent YouTube short was stretched to fit a feature-length running time. The viewer must endure an hour of faux documentary build-up to watch 20 decent minutes that would have been far more satisfying on their own. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN isn’t even the worst found footage alien movie I’ve sat through, but it still isn’t worth your valuable time or hard-earned cash.
Sophie Bishop (Florence Hartigan) is desperately trying to uncover the mystery behind her brother’s decades-old disappearance. A few nights before her brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) went missing, the Phoenix Lights phenomenon occurred and locals believed it might be extraterrestrial activity. Josh rounded up a gal pal Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and his best friend Mark (Justin Matthews) to aid him in filming a documentary about the incident. Curious to discover more about the strange lights, the three teenagers drove to an isolated canyon and were never seen again. You can probably guess how this film plays out. There’s found footage, interviews, loud noises, and flashing lights.
The structure of PHOENIX FORGOTTEN plays like a documentary that’s been interspersed with found footage. This approach was executed to far greater success in 2012’s underrated eco-horror flick THE BAY and was originally the planned concept of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT before it premiered. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN executes this mockumentary style to the convincing effect of an episode from a missing person’s TV show, a lesser episode that starts off okay and then becomes a total bore.
The combination of fake interviews, archive news footage, and found footage seemingly jive well for about 15 minutes or so. The problem is that things keep going…and going…and going, but nothing’s really happening. We all know how this film will play out, because we’ve all seen handheld horror flicks before. We just want to get to the UFOs and alien shenanigans, but there’s barely any of the former (the last 15 minutes) and none of the latter. To be fair though, over an hour of bland build-up would make just about anything seem unsatisfying…even if the aliens were probing these kids in graphic detail and we never see anything like that occur in this film.
What does occur are two eye-rollingly convenient plot twists that bring the viewer to most film’s best part: the final act. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN’s less-is-more final 20 minutes would probably hold up as a short film. Sadly, they occur after an hour of filler that noticeably weights them down. As a result, the last act feels like a mini-BLAIR WITCH PROJECT that happens to have glowing lights (a UFO) and a couple of neat effects (which is likely were most of the budget went). To add insult to injury, the final titles echo 2012’s THE DEVIL INSIDE and that was one of the worst found footage films to ever hit the big screen.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN would have been far better if its final 20-minutes surfaced on YouTube as an effective little short film. Instead, this movie packs an hour of mockumentary build-up onto a pay-off that feels weak. If this film had stuck strictly to the perspective of the three teenagers, which is what the deliberately misleading marketing implied, then this might be a hidden gem of a horror flick. As it stands, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is yet another underwhelming, disappointing addition to the already overcrowded list of crappy found footage horror flicks. It’s marginally better than Oren Peli’s AREA 51 (the worst found footage alien movie I’ve sat through), but ten multiplied by zero is still zero. If you want solid alien found footage horror, check out the final segment of V/H/S/2 and forget about PHOENIX FORGOTTEN.