A Quick Look: Phoenix Forgotten (1/5)

So I just got home from seeing the Ridley-Scott-produced and oddly titled Phoenix Forgotten, and while it’s not as boring as The Blair Witch Project (the film Phoenix Forgotten copied), it still sucked pretty badly. For example, it hit damn near every note that TBWP did. Instead of three college students getting lost in a Maryland forest while filming a documentary about a local supernatural legend in the late 90s, it’s three high school students getting lost in the Arizona desert while filming a documentary while looking for aliens also in the late 90s. And somehow Josh, Ashley, and Mark are even worse at filming a documentary than Heather, Mike, and Josh. Could PF not even come up with less obvious names? Instead of an invisible ghost shaking the tent, there’s the moans of aliens and the sounds of a flying spaceship. And some random bullhonky about Ezekiel’s Ring is inserted randomly into the movie to make it look deeper than it actually is. At least the trio shot on Hi-8 (or was it 35mm?). But apart from the movie’s threat being much more present and involved in the movie, everything that made TBWP what it is is present in PF. The acting is subpar. The direction is third-rate. The script causes the characters to make unrealistic decisions. The camerawork was vomit-inducing. The runtime was frustratingly short. And, most importantly, I was not scared or invested in the characters or story in the slightest. The only intense sequences in the movie were only intense because the surround sound in the theater was deafeningly loud. Hey, at least there’s no jumpscares. At least the characters in PF weren’t as unlikeable or gratingly profane. If you’re scared of bright lights, raining stones, nosebleeds, hair falling out, and a mixture of flashing lights, deafening noises, blisteringly fast wind, and an alien ship, you won’t sleep a wink tonight. Everyone else will have forgotten this within a few hours of seeing it. It’s just another TBWP copycat that got to the party eighteen years too late, and I’m giving Phoenix Forgotten a…

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention this: what I described takes up only the last thirty minutes of the film. Yeah. The trailers are lying to you: the movie’s not actually centered on the three teenagers. Rather than treat us to an ungodly boring “slow-burn thriller”, we spend most of the movie in the present day. Josh’s younger sister Sophie is making a documentary about her brother’s disappearance. How original. She goes to her hometown and talks to her parents and Ashley’s parents, but not to Mark’s parents. She talks to some other townsfolk and decides to give up on her quest to learn her brother’s fate. Intersperse this with footage of Josh meeting Ashley, implication of a building friendship, and deciding to take their friend Mark with them to go explore the desert outside of Phoenix. This takes fifty minutes. At least this is actually filmed like a student documentary. And by that, I mean that the movie switches back and forth between the present and the 90s seemingly at random. It switches back and forth constantly in the first act, stays almost entirely focused on Sophie for the second, and completely abandons her in the third. It’s jarring and boring, but not nearly as boring as TBWP. But it’s not engaging or compelling. But then, another camera is inexplicably mailed to Josh’s school with a tape inside it in conveniently good condition after having sat out in the 100+ degree desert heat for who knows how long. On the tape is the last thirty minutes of the movie. Sophie is shoved to the side to make way for the painfully mediocre and generic climax of the movie. Which is a pity, as Sophie was the only character in the movie I could come even the slightest bit close to sympathizing with. Seriously. This entire movie has been building itself up as Sophie’s story. We begin the movie at her sixth birthday party when we see the Phoenix Lights. We’re introduced to the three missing characters because she’s the one investigating. We see every shallow and bland twist and turn of this mystery through her eyes, and in the third act, she’s tossed to the side. She is never seen again in the movie. Ever. What the hell?

But what’s the point? Why was Phoenix Forgotten made? What purpose does it serve other than to put another blemish on Ridley Scott’s career? What does this movie amount to, other than a particularly weak episode of The X-Files? It’s not as if the Phoenix Lights were a particularly scary or memorable occurrence or make for dramatic material. Phoenix Forgotten has no soul, no shelf life, no purpose, and will ironically be forgotten as soon as it leaves theaters, and I’m giving it a 1 out of 5.

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