Film Review: ‘Phoenix Forgotten’

'Phoenix Forgotten' Review

This umpteenth retread of the 'Blair Witch' formula adds nothing new of note to the tired found-footage horror genre.

After 40 or so minutes of teasing hints that its makers may have hit upon a fresh approach to found-footage thrillers, “Phoenix Forgotten” indicates the genre may be having its last gasp on life support as the movie devolves into yet another threadbare patchwork of mounting hysteria, faux cinéma vérité, and shaky-cam visual clichés.

Things begin promisingly — or at least not off-puttingly — as Sophie (Florence Hartigan) sets out to make an investigative documentary about Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts), her older brother, and his buddies Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Mattews), who disappeared 20 years earlier while making their own film about UFO sightings. The real-life inspiration for this fiction: On March 13, 1997, hundreds of witnesses reported glimpsing signs of extraterrestrial aircraft in the nighttime sky around Phoenix, Ariz., a phenomenon that came to be known as the “Phoenix Lights.” In the world according to “Phoenix Forgotten,” Josh and his friends trekked into the desert to videotape their search for the source of the Phoenix Lights. They were never seen again.

Working from a script he co-wrote with T.S. Nowlin (“The Maze Runner”), first-time feature director Justin Barber shrewdly sustains the first half of his narrative by alternating between vintage home movies of the missing youths and Sophie’s probing interviews two decades later with their parents (including her own divorced mom and dad), people who participated in extensive search parties, and anyone else even tangentially involved with the unsolved mystery. The resulting mashup bears a striking resemblance to a typical episode of “48 Hours” or “Dateline NBC” — an observation that, no kidding, is intended as a compliment.

Unfortunately, “Phoenix Forgotten” takes a detour into drearily familiar territory when Sophie gains possession of a remarkably well-preserved tape discovered inside her brother’s video camera, which was conveniently mailed back to Josh’s school by whoever found it baking under the hot desert sun. Sophie sets up the tape for the audience’s perusal — and then disappears from the movie. She is sorely missed.

Among the many producers of “Phoenix Forgotten,” you’ll find Ridley Scott’s name, which might explain a fleeting wink-wink reference to his “Alien.” But that in-joke isn’t nearly as funny as the brief sequence in which Chelsea Lopez’s Ashley does her impression of Jodie Foster on the verge of a wormhole in “Contact.” The scene is so funny, you may find yourself wishing Barber had filmed Lopez acting out many other highlights from Foster’s oeuvre. That would have been footage worth finding.

Film Review: 'Phoenix Forgotten'

Reviewed at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24, Houston, April 21, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 80 MIN.


An Entertainment Studios release of a Cinelou Films presentation of a Cinelou Films, Scott Free, Oddball, Singular production, in association the FYZZ Facility, Shenghua Entertainment, Tianmu Investments, Chunchiu Media. Producers: Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin, Ridley Scott, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon. Executive producers: Michael Schaefer, Tom Moran, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Scott Karol, David Hopwood, Yu Wei-Chung, Cai Jian, Dennis Pelino, Fredy Bush.


Director: Justin Barber. Screenplay: T.S. Nowlin, Barber. Camera (color): Jay Keitel. Editor: Joshua Rosenfield.


Florence Hartigan, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews, Luke Spencer Roberts.

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  1. Phoenix resident says:

    Just watched The Phoenix Incident which was released in 2015. It is the same movie, but about 4 men. Obviously Ridley Scott is doing a crappy version of that movie. I suggest you check it out. The creators of that movie did a much better job

    • Tbone says:

      The girl referencing Jodie Foster in “Contact” from this movie “Phoenix Forgotten” must be psychic as Contact didn’t come out til 3 months after she disappears in the movie. Impressive.

  2. DWatts says:

    Chelsea Lopez was fantastic! I will be looking for her in upcoming films, she has the versatility to cross over to comedy or take the lead in a drama. Ridley Scott has found a future star in Chelsea.

  3. MG says:

    Truly, “Phoenix Forgettable.”

    • MG says:

      Does Ridley Scott really want his name associated with this pile of dreck? It’s about the only thing that lends it a shred of credibility…

      Were he not associated with it, would anyone actually go to see it in theaters rather than watching it on NetFlix and giving it a 1-star? Err, sorry, “thumbs down.” *Rolls eyes*

  4. mandersdawn says:

    I loved the faux-documentary that I thought was very well done and so my disappointment was even higher when the “found footage” was so frightfully dull.

  5. Barbara says:

    Awful movie we walked out of it because it was so dumb. It was made using a home movie camera so on the big screen it was terrible. Made me have a headache watching it. The worst movie I have ever seen in my life.

  6. Bret D says:

    Is this movie being released as a distrib for hire deal? Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios is releasing and I find it hard to believe Scott Free and Marc Canton could nit get a studio deal somewhere.

  7. Raymond says:

    Being a true believer, I was compelled to see this movie. Now I have seem it, I no longer believe. This movie has no strong plots. Despite its genre, the mood throughout was quite cheerful and boring at the same time. What a waste of time.

  8. halfmoon says:

    Phoenix lights happened in March 1997.

    The movie CONTACT was not released until July. How could she act out Jody Foster scenes?

    For die hard sci-fi buffs, that’s pretty sloppy.

    • DWatts says:

      It was worth the scene

    • MG says:

      Clearly, she “found footage” of Contact before it was released… ;)

      *Rolls eyes*

    • OverHere says:

      HaHaHa and you’d think the 27 producers listed in the credits would’ve said something about this since Contact was a big summer release. I saw it the day it opened. Sloppy indeed.

    • Joe Leydon says:

      Funny you mention that. I was thinking it was an anachronism when, in a 1997 sequence, someone said: “Don’t be THAT guy.”

      • badams71 says:

        Nah, back in the 1994 movie PCU, Jeremy Piven said that to Jon Favreau. “Don’t be that guy”…. “What guy?” …. “The guy that wears the t-shirt of the band he’s going to see.” . Only line in that movie that got much of a chuckle from anyone .

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