Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Horror Film Review

Phoenix Forgotten (2017):  A found-footage/mockumentary mash-up that boasts Ridley Scott as producer and likens itself to The Blair Witch Project.  Remember the famous line, "I knew Jack Kennedy, and you sir are no Jack Kennedy?"  Well, I know The Blair Witch Project and this film is absolutely not The Blair Witch Project.  It is, however, a supreme effort to shoehorn the fictional disappearance of three teens into the real Phoenix Lights incident.  Did it work?  To borrow a line from another Ridley Scott movie:  At home, watching a frustrating horror movie, no one can hear you scream.

At his little sister's birthday party in 1997, teenager Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts) videotapes a series of strange lights hanging over Phoenix, AZ.  Thousands witnessed the event and eventually the military admitted they were flares dropped from aircraft.  Intrigued, Josh teams up with Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) to create a documentary about the sighting.  After a second sighting, Josh plots out the most likely place for the next appearance and convinces his friend Mark to transport the three of them there in his Jeep.  The three teens then vanish without a trace.  The Jeep is found by the side of a road in perfect working order.  Authorities spend weeks searching for them with no luck.  Twenty years later, Josh's now grown up sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) returns to Phoenix to create her own documentary about the case.  She interviews family and authorities and reviews the tapes found in the Jeep, the last of which shows the three teens driving into the desert, all perfectly fine and excited about what they may discover.  The video camera was also found in the Jeep.  Sophie learns nothing new and authorities remain baffled.  On a hunch, Sophie stops at Josh's old high school and asks if he had checked out a second camera.  The lady explains it was 20 years ago and no records are available.  Months later, the same lady contacts Sophie.  A very battered video camera was found.  The second camera.  And there was a tape still inside.  Sophie (and we) finally get to learn the truth of their disappearance.  And?  And?  Well...it's pretty much what you'd expect.  When Sophie shows it to the Air Force, she's told to not make it public.  Does she?  Who knows?  We're left hanging.  We do, at least, find out what happened.  I'll tell you, so here's your spoiler warning.  The three hike to the top of a ridge, get a UFO in the distance on tape, high fives all around, hike back down in the dark, get lost, discover some bizarre petroglyphs (they look like big white hand prints), and then get buzzed by a low-flying, super bright and incredibly loud UFO.  Lots of sound and fury.  Flashing lights, what seems to be lightning, rocks and dirt suddenly pulled into the air as if gravity suddenly shut off, and crazy high winds.  Afterwards, Mark goes pale, his nose starts bleeding, and he begins to act strange.  They find the Jeep and head home.  The UFO comes at them from behind.  The truck dies so they push it to the side of the highway and begin walking the 10 or so miles to civilization.  Mark becomes erratic and leads them into the desert...where the UFO once again does its shock and awe routine.  This time, Mark is simply gone.  Freaked, Josh and Ashley push on.  They spot what appears to be a yard light or a light in a window and head for it.  Ashley then becomes pale and her nose begins bleeding.  The UFO returns and this time, amid the chaos, Josh tapes Ashley...as she is yanked off the ground by an unseen force and pulled straight up.  Josh freaks, bolts for an abandoned trailer home and locks himself inside.  Doesn't really matter because we next witness the force pull apart the trailer in a most spectacular fashion.  Josh drops the camera and we watch him also be yanked and pulled straight up into the hovering lights.  Right before the tape ends, we see that the camera is falling from a considerable height and then it slams into the ground.  Movie over.

Does the end part sound familiar?  It should.  It's exactly what happened in the 2014 movie Alien Abduction, another found footage flick about the real Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina and in my opinion, a much better film.  Phoenix Forgotten goes above and beyond to make us think the disappearance of these kids did in fact take place.  The attention to detail, the interviews, the stock footage, and the footage they had to create was practically perfect.  One problem; doing so made the movie slow and more than a little boring.  This in turn prevented the build up of the requisite suspense so when the fate of the teens is revealed, it's almost anti-climatic.  It's too bad, really, given the story's potential.

The Skinny

Acting:  The performances are just right, but what impressed me the most were the "interviews" with the authorities.  The actors playing the cops deserve awards.
Story:  Bordering on plagiarism, I feel.  I guess imitation is highest form of flattery.
Direction:  Intertwining adult Sophie's mockumentary with the 20 year-old footage from her brother's camera was handled well enough.  Just wish it didn't feel like I was watching a show from the History Channel or an episode of Forensic Files.
Production Values:  I'm astounded by the quality of the found footage and of Sophie's mockumentary.   (Yes, that's sarcasm.)  Amazing how Josh's camera continued to function when Mark's Jeep died.  Anyway, the budget was $2.8 million so there was no reason for it to look crappy.
Gore/FX:  A couple of bloody noses and that's about it.  The UFO effects were actually kind of groovy.
Scares:  Not so's you'd notice.
Ending:  Predictable and uninspired.
Verdict:  Should you see Phoenix Forgotten?  Nope.  Go watch Alien Abduction instead.  Or give The Blair Witch Project and another look.  Why Ridley?  Why?

Rating:  1 out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment