Phoenix Forgotten is a well-crafted film, utilizing a documentary style to draw the audience in, combined with an effective found footage element
The found footage genre has been popular following the original Blair Witch Project (1999) and more recently Paranormal Activity (2007), with a guerrilla style of filmmaking becoming increasing popular in both the horror and sci fi genres.
Phoenix Forgotten is a new sci fi / horror, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Justin Barber in his feature directorial debut. It is a fictional account of the events following the Phoenix Lights incident which occurred on 13th March 1997, where thousands of people reported seeing a formation of lights flying over the city of Phoenix.
Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of three teens who went into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town. They disappeared that night and were never seen again. Now, on the twentieth anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has finally been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition. For the first time ever, the truth will be revealed.
Filmed in a documentary style, it takes place 20 years after the original Phoenix incident. Documentary filmmaker Sophie (Florence Hartigan) finds video footage filmed by her brother 20 years earlier, which captured the events of that fateful night and some of the events leading up to her brother’s disappearance. Determined to find out what really happened, Sophie continues to document her journey to find the truth. She interviews friends, family, police offers and other experts regarding the incident, using her brother’s footage to retrace the series of events and discover what really happened.
The film owes more to Cannibal Holocaust (1980) than the Blair Witch Project. Instead of simply presenting the audience with a film consisting entirely of “recovered” footage, Phoenix Forgotten uses a documentary style of film making, in which the found footage is incorporated into the larger story and used to piece together the mystery of what happened (rather than simply a video diary of events as they unfold).
The documentary style adds a sense of realism to the story, making it feel like something you would find on Netflix.
The original found footage looks good and recaptures the look of amateur filmmaking as it would have looked in the 90s, serving in stark contrast to the HD quality footage which Sophie uses in the present-day to make her documentary. There is an element of shaky cam as you would expect, but thankfully it is not too erratic or headache-inducing.
During the climatic final scenes of the footage, the camera maintains enough focus on the characters so you can really see what is going on. That’s great news because, as we watch the final footage shot by Josh, we’re treated to quite an impressive and tense climatic ending.
With the original found footage, it is the likability of the characters which really draws you in, especially the socially awkwardness of Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts) and the laid-back Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez) who he is determined to impress. It is this keen desire to impress which drives Josh to find out what really occurred with the Phoenix Lights, leading them down the initial road to discovery.
Florence Hartigan does a great job driving the film as Sophie, the modern documentary filmmaker who also remains determined to find out what really happened to her brother 20 years ago. Delivering an emotional performance, still grieving for the loss of her brother, but also portraying a real strength to keep going until she finds the truth.
The pace of the film may be slow for some viewers, but it’s intentional and purposeful pacing designed to build up the story behind the event and gradually reveal pieces of a puzzle that need to be put together.
There is a great deal of detail in the back story incorporating the original events, which really adds to the depth of the narrative. It is great to see the writers put so much emphasis on creating a detailed explanation of what happened, rather than taking a more generic and simplistic route.
I was impressed with the detail to the story and the visual direction from co-writer and director Justin Barber, who creates a more comprehensive story than your standard found footage film. It is difficult for a film in this sub-genre not to be compared to The Blair Witch Project and the numerous other projects being released each week, but Phoenix Forgotten is a film worth watching, with enough originality to stand out on its own.