Phoenix Forgotten is a lacking and minor entry in the never-ending found-footage sub-genre that does little to stir up the material. Justin Barber's film is unfortunately forgettable, rarely utilizing the found-footage approach to explore anything beyond bright lights and shaky cameras.
Justin Barber‘s Phoenix Forgotten is the latest found-footage flick to hit theaters just a decade too late. Phoenix Forgotten‘s material is ripe for the big screen, tackling a mysterious string of lights sighted in Arizona that have said to be linked to UFOs, yet Barber’s film focuses less on the mystery and more on the flat characters and tired filmmaking style that has mostly disappeared over the past few years. Why bother?
Phoenix Forgotten serves as a faux documentary that’s about another faux documentary. The film opens at a six year old girl’s birthday party, filmed by her older brother. It gets abruptly interrupted as a series of mysterious bright lights zoom over their home and the city of Phoenix, Arizona.
This girl’s brother goes off with some friends to investigate the lights and never ends up coming home. The film follows the now-grown girl as she searches for answers to the disappearance of her brother and his two friends and the lights that surfaced without any explanation.
What she finds isn’t all that shocking and about what you’d expect when purchasing a ticket to a found-footage film with no directing/writing credibility and a reportedly small budget, despite Ridley Scott‘s name attached as a producer.
Phoenix Forgotten had the potential to right the wrong written by so many found-footage films that often show too little and take way too long to reveal absolutely nothing. It’s no surprise that most of these films are shot on a shoe-string budget and made by no-name creatives, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t pack a few surprises.
There are a few found-footage films that I adore for their creativity and ability to feel authentic and scary. Most other films struggle to balance the need for such an approach and the execution that shouldn’t feel lazy or rushed, but needed in order to better the story.
Phoenix Forgotten is not one of those films that benefits from the found-footage angle.
It surprisingly tries to establish its characters and story early on, swapping back-and-forth between archived footage and present day, but it does this in a meandering way that makes for boring cinema.
Eventually, the “final footage” is found and the film plays out exactly like every other single film in the genre. Our characters scream and shout as they run frantically around in the darkness, hearing eerie noises and seeing strange things.
Of course we, as an audience, do not see these things, but the characters do and in an attempt to create atmosphere, director Justin Barber creates a flat and lifeless piece of video that just doesn’t work.
The final five minutes reveal a little more than the previous hour and fifteen minutes, but not enough to warrant the money wasted on a ticket. That is because found-footage films corner themselves and fail to earn that slow-brewed build-up, not to mention 90% of them struggle with the big end reveal.
Phoenix Forgotten‘s ending barely registers as a reveal and can more accurately be described as a jumbled mess of static and bright lights, which provide absolutely no closure to the story or the characters.
What makes matters worse is that the end credits crawl includes obvious information that has already been explained countless times throughout the film. It’s almost insulting as a movie-goer to have to be re-explained what the film was about, despite just wasting an hour and a half of a perfectly good day on a film that doesn’t even belong on the big screen.
I’m not sure what producer Ridley Scott or Fox saw in this film. Sure, the budget is small enough, but why bother with a wide-spread release? Why not opt for VOD or straight-to-DVD if you’re going to put absolutely no effort into the production of the film?
I’ve seen worse found-footage films than Phoenix Forgotten, but I’ve also seen these films about five or ten years ago. Why Phoenix Forgotten was even made in this day and age is a question that I’ll chalk up to studio profits and nothing else, because what is seen is a worse re-hash of films like The Blair Witch, only twenty years too late.
Forget it and save your money for that trip to Phoenix you’ve always wanted to take.