Aliens have been a part of the urban and modern myths of America. I am not saying that this phenomenon is specifically located in America, but with isolated deserts and forests, there certainly is a lot of room for people to go missing in mysterious circumstances and strange happenings to appear in the sky. These stories of aliens have been a part of cinema for a similarly long time, films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Fourth Kind (unrelated) deal with aliens and their activity on earth. One has become a classic of science fiction cinema, the other many of you probably forgot existed. A new film tackling alien activity on earth is 2017’s Phoenix Forgotten, with executive producer Ridley Scott, a man who knows his way around alien films and its coming to Blu-ray.
The film is set in Phoenix 20 years after the appearance of strange lights in the sky and the disappearance of three teenagers who were investigating the phenomena. It follows Sophie Bishop, sister to one of the victims Josh, as she makes a documentary about the incident and tries to find out what happened to her brother and his friends. Shot as a documentary produced by one of the missing teenagers, Phoenix Forgotten certainly has a unique story structure. It feels very similar to an old gothic novel, where you would have a Russian doll style narrative of one narrator finding out a story from another narrator. It definitely helped lend a level of authenticity and mystery to proceedings. This type of narrative works well for the type of film this is, that of the found footage horror film. There was always a problem that I had with that sub-genre, who had found the footage and why were they releasing it to cinemas. With this movie, it is explained well and there is also a character that discovers the footage with the audience. Sophie is a documentary filmmaker trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, a mystery the audience, through her, is also trying to solve. Thus when she does, it makes narrative sense for a theatrical release.
For the most part, I was convinced that this was a documentary for a good long while. This is due to the very authentic shooting and acting by most of the actors. Mixed in with stock footage from news reports of the actual light appearances are numerous cutaway shots that structure the film much like a documentary. Thanks to some great bit parts giving fantastic performances as police, helicopter pilots and other rescue workers trying to find the missing people, I was intrigued by the disappearance of the teenagers from the town and what our audience surrogate would find in her investigation.
Where this film falls apart is right at the end, which is unfortunately true of most of these movies. There are two acts to the film and the first is a great mystery with interviews that are framed and performed almost exactly like an actual documentary, with the build to the disseverance. The second half is a reveal of what happened and it devolves into a standard found footage film that suffers from the same flaws of other found footage films: overly shaky camera, conveniently getting certain things in frame, a character obsessed with carrying the camera despite the fact that it makes no sense to in the situation. It felt completely out of place to the first half of the film and I was left with a more forgettable movie because of it.
Phoenix Forgotten is half a good movie. The realistic way that it approaches the mystery in a well-made facsimile of a documentary tricked me entirely, with only a few hiccups. It is well acted, interestingly shot and there is also a good story to tell. However, when it gets into its reveal it devolves into a traditional and clichéd found footage movie that made the first half almost feel like a waste of time. Signature has done a good job in the making of the disc, with an errorless playback, both in its video and its audio, but the film lacks any extras to really recommend a full purchase so, either wait till it airs on TV or it ends up buried on a Video on Demand service, forgotten like its missing teens.
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