The movie opens with video footage from a little girl’s birthday party in Phoenix, Arizona shot by Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts). It is his little sister, Sophie’s, sixth birthday and he walks around asking the party attendees to record a message to Sophie in the future. Josh’s grandfather gives cringe-worthy advice that Sophie will need to learn to obey her husband at all times, causing Josh to quickly cut away. After recording his mothers message to Sophie, she turns the tables and takes the camera on Josh, asking him to say something nice to his sister. He is clearly awkward on camera, and obviously feels more comfortable being the one behind it. Josh begins to say something to Sophie when you hear the other party goers begin to exclaim in wonder at something they are seeing off camera.
Josh snatches the camera up and begins recording what will be known as the Phoenix Lights, a series of mysterious lights in formation over the city. Josh zooms in as best he can and is disappointed when the lights suddenly vanish. His family begins to speculate on what the lights were, with most believing that they are something to do with the military. Josh believes that they’ve just seen a UFO to the disbelief of his family. They are startled when two military jets blast by over the house, blowing over the party decorations. Josh asks his father that if those were the military jets, then what were the earlier lights.
The older footage stops and we hear a female voice-over, it is an adult Sophie (Florence Hartigan) saying that that night is the way she will always remember her brother. We find out that Josh and two other teens disappeared not long after the lights were seen and no trace of them were ever found. She is returning to Phoenix to film a documentary about her brother’s disappearance.
She is picked up at the airport by her father. We find out that Sophie and Josh’s parents divorced after Josh disappeared and their mother is now selling their childhood home. Sophie, in addition to returning to film her documentary, has come to help her mother pack up the house, which includes Josh’s room which has been untouched since his disappearance.
Sophie asks her mother if she has any of Josh’s tapes and her mother gives her a shoe box filled with all the tapes and the two begin to watch. First off is a collection of newscasts from the time after the lights were witnessed and we see that Josh had some notoriety from filming the lights and we see that both he and his father were interviewed for the local news. We also see newscasts speculating on the lights origins and finally a (real life) newscast where the then-Governor of Arizona gave a press conference where he jokingly dismissed the lights possibly extraterrestrial origins by having police officers bring out their main suspect in handcuffs. It is a man in a rubber Alien mask and costume and the governor laughs off any possibility of the lights being UFOs.
We see from the tapes that Josh began to film his own documentary about the lights but doesn’t have much luck getting people to talk to him. It is through his efforts to make his film that he meets Ashley, another high school student interested in journalism. We first see her as Josh awkwardly interviews her about the lights and she begins to coach him in how to conduct a proper interview.
Phoenix Forgotten is a 2017 American found footage science-fiction supernatural psychological horror film directed by Justin Barber in his directorial debut, and written by Barber and T.S. Nowlin. The film is also produced by Nowlin, alongside Ridley Scott, Wes Ball, Courtney Solomon and Mark Canton. Originally advertised as Phoenix, the film tells the story of the disappearance of three teenagers who set out to find the source of the widely reported 1997 UFO phenomenon known as the “Phoenix Lights”. It was released on April 21, 2017 to mixed reviews, with many critics unfavorably comparing it to The Blair Witch Project.
Phoenix Forgotten (2017)
Directed by: Justin Barber
Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews, Clint Jordan, Cyd Strittmatter, Jeanine Jackson, Ana Dela Cruz, Mackenzie Firgens, Jay Pirouznia, Marc Marron, Cynthia Quiles
Screenplay by: T.S. Nowlin, Justin Barber
Production Design by: Todd Fjelsted
Cinematography by: Jay Keitel
Film Editing by: Joshua Rosenfield
Costume Design by: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Set Decoration by: Vanessa Lin, Stephen McGlade
Art Direction by: Drew Bender, Caity Birmingham
Music by: Mondo Boys
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror, peril and some language.
Distributed by: Cinelou Films
Release Date: April 21, 2017