WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
Phoenix Forgotten is a fictional documentary based on the real life UFO phenomenon known as ‘the Phoenix Lights’. Back in March 1997, a series of lights were seen by thousands of people in Arizona and Nevada as the events were captured on video that can be found on Youtube today. The accident which many described as a giant boomerang-shaped aircraft silently moving across the skies before disappearing. Despite this incident initially being downplayed by government officials, the reality is that Phoenix Lights is one of the most infamous sightings of UFOs that to this very day as not been explained or debunked by the public.
Using that event for their own film, Phoenix Forgotten is a story of three Arizona teens that disappeared without a trace just days after the Phoenix Lights sighting. 20 years earlier, our main character Sophie and her family, witnessed the incident during her 6th birthday party. Now in present day, she is working on a documentary to get to the bottom of her brother’s disappearance along with two of his friends. There are two aspects to this film. The first part is played as a straight investigational documentary where Sophie interviews key figures, including her own parents about the 1997 disappearance. Testimony from family members of the victims gives a human side to the story and despite it all being fake, the emotion displayed gives a realistic portrayal of how families of missing children would react to the stress of losing a loved one. The second part is where they review the found footage from her brother’s team in their last days. The evidence that was collected of their adventure leading to the reveal of the final tape of their abduction shows that the teens were just that, teenagers who were looking for a big scoop into the strange lights that ended up getting more than they bargained for.
Ridley Scott is the producer of this film, his influence with the presentation is what sets this film apart from other found footage movies. Despite being a Sci-Fi Horror film, there isn’t much horror here as there is suspense. This film works as a documentary first and sci-fi second. The structure allows them to play it straight while keeping the uneasy reality of the 3 teens fate. The audience already knows that they were taken by aliens, but the build up to the actual footage is brilliant. There is even a play on the theory of Ezekiel’s Wheel which is a biblical reference to Ezekiel 1:16 so the ending leaves you wondering if this was UFOs or an act of God.
The beauty of taking a real event and using that to create a fictional thriller is brilliant. An idea that could have easily flopped works thanks to Director Justin Barber (no not Justin Bieber) who essentially films two different movies that do not feel out-of-place with one another, an achievement on its own. The film is pretty short, only 85 minutes. Normally this would get under my skin, but here the film doesn’t stretch itself too thin and remains effective. Phoenix Forgotten while not a top 10 film of 2017 is one of my favorite and most pleasant surprises of the year.
OFFICIAL RATING: ***