On March 13, 1997, a series of lights appeared over Phoenix. Thousands of eyewitnesses and a small selection of video recordings told of or showed blinking orbs and a V-shaped object in the sky. The event has come to be known as “Phoenix Lights.”
In PHOENIX FORGOTTEN, these events resulted in the disappearance of three teenagers. Twenty years later, Sophie (Florence Hartigan, 2012’s ENTRANCE), sister of the missing Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts, 2016’s THE GOOD NEIGHBOR), aims to shoot a documentary to find out exactly what happened after Josh went to find his own answers.
What happened is partly revealed in footage that Josh took the night the events occurred. Through this “found footage,” Josh catches a mostly clear glimpse of the lights, interviews with eyewitnesses and compiles a team to search the surroundings. For those unsure if the eventual discoveries will be of the paranormal kind, well, Josh kindly and oh-so-subtly included the theme from THE X-FILES part of his video.
Sophie, too, interviews a number of subjects, including friends, family and members of the local police force. These chats are presented in brief snippets, so there’s little depth; what they seem more purposed for is prefacing footage belonging to Josh and the archives of local news affiliates. It’s here that the missing pieces begin to emerge for Sophie, pushing her to dig until she and her family can have peace of mind.
With two investigations making up PHOENIX FORGOTTEN, there should be much to explore for the viewer. Yet, only one of them would really be of significant interest. The viewer won’t care about the parents’ divorce or who Ashley (Chelsea Lopez, NOVITIATE) has a crush on, elements that supply unneeded subplots to an already short movie (it runs 86 minutes with credits). They want to see what happened to the teens–they want alien encounters and abductions, paranormal happenings and frights. This sort of material is far too limited, and even as the teens’ search heats up, it’s just the same old tricks.
Josh’s footage is shot in the tired found footage style popularized by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, shaky camerawork, cockeyed lenses, sudden cuts, unsteady flashlights and frantic whimpers. It’s just an uninventive way to tackle a compelling subject.
The actual events that inspired PHOENIX FORGOTTEN are some of the most infamous in the UFO community. This gives the filmmakers a firm basis, but director Justin Barber (who co-wrote the thin screenplay with T.S. Nowlin) seems to have more interest in the fictional than the fact. Really, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN could have been about an entirely fictitious UFO-tied event and it would have had the same draw and impact. Barber adds nothing to the 1997 events, nor does he contribute to the genre, resulting in a lame, unoriginal effort destined for the bargain bin.
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. As there is both newer and older equipment (or at least the illusion of older equipment) being used, footage is either cleaner or (intentionally) worn. Still, image quality overall does what it needs to to achieve the desired outcome.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Subtitles in English and Spanish. Audio is fine, with clean dialogue and some effective SFX.
Audio commentary with Justin Barber, Florence Hartigan, Chelsea Lopez and Justin Matthews: Director Barber and three of the stars give a fine commentary that fans may enjoy hearing.
Sophie’s Story (3:12) offers a mock news report.
Phoenix Found (7:16) looks at the events that inspired PHOENIX FORGOTTEN.