Justin Barber’s film “Phoenix Forgotten” is better than I’d hoped.

I saw the name “Ridley Scott” and figured there had to be something to this. Ridley Scott and sci-fi go together and even though he’s just producing on this one…I figured it had to be awesome, right?

The answer is a big ol’ bag of “eh” that isn’t fully disappointed.

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Phoenix Forgotten is a story set in 2016 as a woman searches for any evidence that could lead to her missing brother. She hunts through tapes and interviews people connected to the incident, which is built around the famous Phoenix Lights from 1997 (if you aren’t a conspiracy theory buff and don’t know about this one then check it out). The structure of the film inter-cuts between the documentary she’s shooting with what I assume is her boyfriend and the footage her brother Josh shot in the 90’s. The narratives are decently woven together and build to a final 20 minutes of fairly intense footage.

Chelsea Lopez was a bit of a surprise in this one. Her performance was actually one of the most palatable scream queen shows I’ve seen anyone put on in a while.There’s not a lot of wailing, there’s not a lot of awkwardness, and she is actually nowhere near annoying. The other two main teens in the cast (Justin Matthews and Luke Spencer Roberts) are more mediocre with a few standout moments, but Lopez really has something good going in this film and I was pleased to see her stay consistent with the character throughout.

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The biggest let-down with this sci-fi Blair Witch Project attempt is the modern story, which manages to never reach great and struggles to stay away from “so bad it’s actually pretty funny” territory. As Sophie searches for her missing brother I would occasionally glance at my watch or stop and wonder when we were going to get down to it. This is a horrendously bland story. It winds up picking up towards the end and it starts strong, but everything in-between kept my heavy-lidded eyes glancing down at the floor at times. I don’t know how they would have cut this, but I would have been happier without scenes from this part of the film.

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Barber plays with a lot of interesting concepts as a director. Aliens using people as trackers to stalk new prey, the burned coyotes, the way the UFOs looked and the way they abduct, it all looks really different and I’m a sucker for interesting sci-fi design. I’m pleased with the lack of alien appearance and minimal use of lights and ships. Sometimes the Spielberg method still works, you know? One of the film’s strengths is the idea that it is kept so much back, and while the pacing is frustrating (seriously with that present-day timeline) aspects like this are what make it work. Between Lopez’s performance and this editing execution we have an entertaining little movie.
Overall was this horrible? No, not even close. This would have been a solid matinee and worth the price of an afternoon. You guys want to see it? It’ll be smashing on Netflix or Redbox one day and you’ll think to yourself “that was fine.”

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