Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Phoenix Forgotten

I've gotten a bit behind on movie reviews here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld, so I'm gonna try and get caught up in the next few days. This movie's probably no longer in theaters, but I sat through the goddamned thing so you're all gonna share my pain!

Phoenix Forgotten was "written" by T.S. Nowlin and Justin Barber, and "directed" by Justin Barber.

Nowlin previously wrote the utterly forgettable The Maze Runner and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Barber has worked primarily as a graphic artist for various films. Phoenix Forgotten is his first major directing job.


Take The Blair Witch Project, substitute UFOs for the supernatural elements, cram in a pointless documentary framing device and you'll have a pretty good idea what this movie's like. There's even a character named Josh!

The film's based on the famous "Phoenix Lights" incident, which occurred on March 13, 1997 in Phoenix, Arizona. Thousands of witnesses observed a formation of strange lights in the sky, which were also seen in other parts of Arizona, as well as Nevada and even northern Mexico. It was one of the most-observed UFO incidents in recent history.

Despite what the poster says about "Shocking Untold True Events," the film's "missing teen" angle is complete and utter bullsh*t pulled straight out of the screenwriters' asses. It's yet another lame attempt to ape the success of The Blair Witch Project, which also tried to convince the audience they were watching actual video footage.

The film does try to distance itself a small bit from Blair Witch by bookending the found footage with a faux documentary about the incident and subsequent disappearances. It's a nice try, but in the end it doesn't offer us anything we haven't seen numerous times before in the past two decades. In the end the documentary angle does nothing but pad the run time, making the long, slow slog to the UFO abduction even more interminable.

I just realized something. This movie is a faux documentary about a fake disappearance that resulted from a UFO incident that never happened. Trifecta!

So far Phoenix Forgotten's grossed just $3.5 million against its $2.8 million budget. That's pretty dismal! Horror movies, even terrible found footage ones like this, generally always do well at the box office. Heck, even the dreadful The Bye Bye Man was a modest hit, grossing $26 million against its $7 million budget! Maybe this is a sign that the detestable found footage genre has finally run its course. We can only hope.

Lastly, I'm having trouble coming to grips with the fact that a movie set in 1997 is now considered a period piece. Excuse me while I go take my rheumatiz medicine, yell at some clouds and pull my pants up to my chest.

SPOILERS, I GUESS.

The Plot:
We open on video footage of Sophie Bishop's sixth birthday party on March 13, 1997, filmed by her older brother Josh. Suddenly everyone sees a series of mysterious lights in the sky, and Josh shakily (of course) films them. They wonder if the lights were military planes or a UFO. Suddenly two jets blast over the house, apparently chasing after the lights.

Cut to the present day (I guess), as the now adult Sophie is filming a documentary about her brother Josh's disappearance. Josh and his friend Ashley and Mark all disappeared a week after so-called "Phoenix Lights Incident." No trace of the them was ever found.

Sophie's dad picks her up at the airport and drops her off at their old home. Her parents divorced after Josh disappeared, and her mother is selling the house. Sophie's mother gives her a box of Josh's old videotapes, and she begins watching them.

When then get sort of a flashback, as the tape features newscasts of the Lights, along with Josh and his dad being interviewed. There's also a press conference with the then-Governor of Arizona, who mocks the incident and dismisses it.

Another tape shows that Josh attempted to film his own documentary about the Lights, interviewing various people around town. This is how he meets Ashley, a fellow student who he has a crush on. Josh and Ashley show the footage of the Lights to two local astronomers, who say they were most likely military flares. They also interview a Native American who says the Lights are a legend within his tribe, and he's seen things like them before.

Josh wants to visit the reservation where the Lights have been seen, but neither he or Ashley have a car. Josh talks his friend Mark into driving them. He and Mark drive into the desert to search for the Lights. They spot a bright light in the distance and hike up a steep hillside. There they see a group of police standing around a spotlight, looking into the sky with telescopes and binoculars, obviously searching for the UFO. The police spot the kids, and Josh and Mark hightail it back to the car.

The next day Josh and Mark pick up Ashley, and the three drive south of Phoenix, to the Indian Reservation where the lights have also been spotted. Unfortunately Josh's tapes end here.

Back in the present day, Sophie interviews a police officer who found Mark's abandoned car. It was in working condition and there was no evidence of foul play, other than a few drops of Mark's blood. He says the police investigated the case thoroughly, but reached a dead end and were forced to call it off. The officer says he always found it odd that Josh left his camera in the vehicle.

Sophie asks for the camera, and since it's no longer evidence, the officer gives it to her. She watches the tape in the camera as we flash back again. As the three teens drive along, Josh sleeps while Mark and Ashley get to know one another. They come to the mountains and pull over and take off on foot. Josh is angry that Mark and Ashley seem to be hitting it off. They come to a clearing where they see a dozen or so coyotes that've been burned to death by... something. The tape abruptly ends there.

In the present again, Sophie can't believe Josh would leave his camera in the car and not film whatever they found. She makes an incredibly intuitive leap and says there must have been a second camera. She contacts the school and asks if a video camera was checked out in 1997 and never returned, but unfortunately their records don't go back that far.

Sophie sees an interview with the former Governor, who's now recanting his statement from 1997, and says he believes the Phoenix Lights really were a UFO. She tracks down the Governor's former press agent, but he refuses to speak to her.

Her investigation at a dead end, Sophie leaves Phoenix and returns home.

Sometime later a lady from Josh's school calls Sophie, and tells her she found something. Apparently there really was a second camera (!), and someone found it in the desert and mailed it back to the school. Sophie returns to Phoenix and picks up the camera, which is scorched almost beyond recognition. 
Sophie's boyfriend carefully removes the tape from the burned camera, and amazingly it still plays. They watch the tape in stunned silence.

After watching the footage, Sophie sends a copy of the tape to an Air Force General. She later arranges an interview with him, but all he'll tell her is to never let the footage get out. Sophie's boyfriend asks what's next, and she says, "What do you think Josh would do?"

The final half hour or so of the film is Josh's tape. He, Ashley and Mark move past the burned coyotes, and into the rocky desert. They walk through a canyon marked with Indian petroglyphs that resemble primitive UFOs. Josh and Mark argue over Ashley. Suddenly Mark sees another object similar to the Phoenix Lights in the distance, and Josh films it. They congratulate themselves for capturing the UFO on tape a second time.

Josh wants to wait and see if the lights return, but Ashley says she has a curfew and needs to get back home. They head back toward the car, but soon become lost. They find more petrogylphs in the canyon, including odd hand prints. Ashley looks at Mark's compass, and sees the needle spinning wildly. Mark climbs a hill by himself to see if he can spot the car.

Josh and Ashley here a strange sound and are blinded by a bright light directly above them. After it disappears, Mark returns, acting oddly. They then find the car, pile in and head for home. Ashley notes that Mark looks sick, as his nose begins bleeding (which is why the police found his blood in the car). Mark insists he's OK. They see a light behind them, and think it's another car at first. It gets closer and closer, and flies over them, bathing them in bright light again. The car dies, as all of the electronics stop working. Josh and Mark push it to the side of the road, where the police will eventually find it. For some reason, Mark leaves his camera in the car.

The three teens get out and walk back toward town. Mark lags farther and farther behind, as he's clearly ill. Suddenly he runs into the desert, saying he can hear his brother (?), and Josh and Ashley chase after him. Suddenly the sky lights up again, flattening the teens. Rocks float up in the air and come crashing down. When the event is over, Mark has completely disappeared.

They search for a while, but Josh finally convinces Ashley they need to get help and come back for Mark. They spot a house in the distance, and run to it for help. Josh notices Ashley's nose is bleeding, and when she runs her hand through her hair, large chunks of it come out.

Ashley then runs ahead of Josh, saying she can hear her father. The light returns and more rocks are sucked up into the air. Josh looks up and can just make out a series of spinning rings above him. The light disappears again, and Ashley's nowhere to be found.

He runs to the house and goes inside. He looks around for a phone, and sees himself in a mirror and notices that now HIS nose is bleeding. And yes, despite the fact that his friends have been abducted and he's been attacked by the light several times, he's still filming with the goddamned camera.

The intense light shines through the windows, as everything in the house rises up. The roof is ripped off and Josh flies into the air. He's sucked into a ship as he lets go of the camera, which spins crazily before hitting the ground, where it'll be found and mailed back to the school.

Thoughts:

• There's really not a lot to say about this film. There's no message here, it brings nothing new to the table, it's not the least bit scary and there's absolutely no point to it, so this should be mercifully short.

• In case you think I'm exaggerating that this movie is nothing more than The Blair Witch Project with UFOs, just take a look at the names of Phoenix Forgotten's three main characters: Josh, Ashley and Mark. That's completely different from Blair Witch's Josh, Heather and Mike!

• The footage of the Phoenix Lights seen in the film (and allegedly shot by Josh) is actual video of the "real" event taken by an eyewitness in 1997.

As you might expect, the incident has been thoroughly debunked over the years. Most people don't realize there were actually TWO different events in Phoenix on the night of March 13, 1997. The first happened at 8:30 pm, and was the infamous "V" formation. Very few people actually saw this first event, as there was no reason for them to be staring up at the sky at that time.

Later that night around 10 pm, thousands of people who'd heard about the earlier sighting spotted a second, completely unrelated event. This sighting consisted of a line of lights that slowly sank behind the nearby Estrella Mountain range. The vast majority of witnesses confused this sighting with the earlier "V" formation, which they never actually saw.

The "V" event was later confirmed to simply be a formation of airplanes flying at high altitude, which was corrobrated by witnesses viewing them through telescopes. The second formation was a series of flares dropped by a military plane, which slowly sank to the ground.

• The found footage parts of the movie are set in 1997, so you know what that means! Anachronisms Ahoy!

At one point Josh and Ashley research historical UFO sightings in a library. Josh finds an illustration of a UFO that looks like a series of spinning rings, and say sit reminds him of the movie Contact. Ashley says that's her favorite movie, and even does a spot-on Jodie Foster impression from the film.

Supposedly the three teens when missing on March 20, 1997 (exactly one week after the Phoenix Lights incident). Contact was released on July 11 of 1997, some four months after the kids disappeared. Whoops!

After the teens disappear, billboards pop up all over Phoenix urging anyone with info to call a hotline. Unfortunately the 480 area code used on the billboard wasn't a thing in Arizona until April 1, 1999. Double whoops!

• In the film we see footage of then-Arizona Governor Fife Symington holds a televised "press conference" to mock and debunk the Phoenix Lights incident.

Later, in the present day half of the film, we see an interview of an older Fife Symington as he recants his earlier statements, saying he now believes the incident was real (insert eye roll here).

Both the press conference and later interview were actual footage of the real Fife Symington.

Fife?

• Near the end of the film, Sophie sends Josh's "lost" tape to an Air Force General. After he views it, all he has to say to her is "Don't ever let it get out."

Really? That's it? Sophie has a tape which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that UFOs and UFO abduction are real! Wouldn't the Air Force raid her house, confiscate all her video equipment and every copy of the tape and threaten her with legal action or even incarceration if it ever leaks to the public?

Phoenix Forgotten is yet another in a long, long, LONG line of imitators inspired by The Blair Witch Project. This one tries to hide its obvious roots by adding a faux documentary to the mix, which does nothing but pad the run time. Do yourself a favor and forget about Phoenix Forgotten (see what I did there?). I give it a D+.


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