A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Phoenix Forgotten is a found-footage horror/sci-fi movie about UFOs and (possible) aliens. Based on a real-life sighting from 1997, it's cleverly and satisfyingly put together. It's also frightening: Viewers can expect scary noises, lights, and screaming. But while bloody coyote corpses and bloody noses are shown, other violence is imagined or takes place off screen. Language includes several uses of "s--t," plus "bitch," "d--k," "dumbass," "hell," and a few other words. A teen boy is said to have a crush on a teen girl, and there's brief, joking sex talk in one scene. The three teens drink a six-pack of canned beer.
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What's the story?
In PHOENIX FORGOTTEN, a young woman named 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). On the evening of Sophie's sixth birthday party, March 13, 1997, several mysterious lights appeared in the sky, and Josh became fascinated by them. He started investigating and videotaping his findings and then disappeared without a trace, along with his friends Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews). Sophie finds some of Josh's old videotapes and interviews several people but comes up with nothing. Then, a second, mangled camera is discovered with a final tape in it. On this tape is footage that Sophie can barely believe ... and is warned never to let out.
Is it any good?
This found-footage horror/sci-fi movie emerges as one of the most interesting and gripping efforts in a typically tired genre. That's thanks mainly to its clever use of footage and editing and the realistic performances. Based on a real-life 1997 UFO sighting that's since been widely debunked but is still widely discussed, Phoenix Forgotten does what The Blair Witch Project also successfully did: It jumps off from reality and slyly mixes in fiction. (It could be real...) And the performances don't sound or feel scripted; either the movie 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 also 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 who appear in both eras are believably aged.) Barber, who also directed, 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Phoenix Forgotten's violence. How much is actually shown? Does it seem like you saw more violence than you actually did? Which affects you more -- what you see or what you don't?
Do you believe that the lights in the sky were alien spacecraft or something from this planet, like planes or flares? Had you heard about this incident from 1997?
What's the appeal of the found-footage genre? How does this movie compare to other found-footage movies you've seen?
- In theaters: April 21, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 1, 2017
- Cast: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez
- Director: Justin Barber
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Space and Aliens
- Run time: 80 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: terror, peril and some language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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