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With: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews, Clint Jordan, Cyd Strittmatter, Jeanine Jackson, Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz
Written by: Justin Barber, T.S. Nowlin
Directed by: Justin Barber
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror, peril and some language
Running Time: 80
Date: 04/21/2017

Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Alien Taped

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This found-footage sci-fi movie emerges as one of the most interesting, and gripping, efforts in a tired genre, thanks mainly to its clever use of footage and editing and the realistic performances.

In Phoenix Forgotten, a young woman, Sophie (Florence Hartigan), travels back to her Arizona hometown, aiming to film a documentary about the disappearance of her older brother Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) back in 1997. On the evening of her sixth birthday party, March 13, 1997, several mysterious lights appeared in the sky, and Josh became fascinated by them.

He began investigating and videotaping his findings, and then disappeared without a trace, along with his friends Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews). She finds several of his old videotapes and interviews several people, but comes up with nothing. Then, a second, mangled camera is discovered with a final videotape in it. On this tape is footage that Sophie can barely believe, and is warned never to let out.

Based on a real-life 1997 "UFO" sighting that has been widely debunked, but is still widely discussed, Phoenix Forgotten does what The Blair Witch Project successfully did: it jumps off from reality and slyly mixes in fiction. Additionally, the performances do not sound scripted; either it was improvised or co-writers Justin Barber and T.S. Nowlin have an uncanny ear for the natural rhythms of human speech and behavior.

The movie's construction is equally satisfying. The modern-day footage is shot and assembled just like an honest-to-goodness documentary, and the rawer 1997 video footage looks authentically from its era. (On top of that, characters that appear in both eras are believably aged.)

Like a master showman, director Barber spends an impressive amount of time setting up the mystery, building it, before finally paying it off with the final, lost videotape. That the final reveal doesn't live up to our imagination is perhaps the movie's biggest flaw, but before that it's a terrific ride.

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