April 13, 1997 – a series of mysterious lights filled the night sky in Phoenix, Arizona. Thousands of witnesses forever remembered the event as one of the most famous supposed UFO sightings in history. Phoenix Forgotten makes use of the events to provide a compelling story to uncover the truth of what happened, and what those mysterious lights were. Directed and co-written by Justin Barber (in his debut) along with T.S. Nowlin (of The Maze Runner series), the film is tense, well-written and effectively paced.
The movie starts as the Bishop family is hosting a birthday party for six-year old Sophie (Serendipity Lilliana). Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) is filming the party with his hand-held camera and having people provide testimonials for young Sophie once she gets older. Before Josh can say what he has to say to his sister, a group of lights appear in the night sky grabbing everyone’s attention. Josh quickly grabs his camera to record the event and wonders what exactly those lights were. Everyone is curious about them, but no one knows what it was.
Fast-forward twenty years and Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is now searching for answers herself since her brother Josh disappeared with two other teenagers shortly after the Phoenix Lights incident. She visits her family and is shooting a documentary to find out what happened to her brother. Her parents have since divorced following the disappearance of their son and live separately now. Sophie interviews many people including friends of Josh, emergency personnel involved in the search for the missing teens, as well as her parents. (The interviews and search for the missing teens remind a bit of 48 Hours.) The search went on for months eventually coming to a cease when no other evidence turned up. They are remembered as the forgotten teens who vanished after the lights appeared. As the mystery ensues, Barber holds the suspense masterfully.
Phoenix Forgotten is broken into two parts. The first being Sophie’s quest to find the answers to her brother’s disappearance, while the second part is the truth itself involving Josh, Ashley (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark (Justin Matthews) and what they saw prior to them vanishing from sight. While the film isn’t scary nor does it showcase splashes of horror, the film does have genuinely thrilling moments and steadily builds up the suspense.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Phoenix Forgotten entertainingly mixes documentary-stylings within the found-footage subgenre, marking a really unique experience – pay attention to the bonus Easter Eggs involving the Xenomorph, The X-Files, and Ezekiel’s Wheel from the Bible, a nice touch. Phoenix Forgotten offers something commendably unique to the genre and should entice excitement for what director Barber offers in the future.