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Synopsis: In the spring of 1997, several residents of Phoenix, Arizona claimed to witness mysterious lights in the sky. This phenomenon, which became known as “The Phoenix Lights,” remains the most famous UFO sighting in American history. On July 23, 1997, three high school student filmmakers went missing while camping in the desert outside Phoenix. Twenty years later, Sophie Bishop, a documentary filmmaker and younger sibling of one of the missing, returns to Phoenix to delve into the their disappearances and the emotional trauma left on those that knew them. Nothing can prepare her for the shocking discovery of a tape from the night her brother and his friends disappeared. (D Films)
Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, and Chelsea Lopez
Writers: T.S. Nowlin and Justin Barber
Director: Justin Barber
Rating: PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 87mins
Any found footage film is going to be compared to the film that pretty much created the genre, The Blair Witch Project, intentionally or not. While that film stands at or near the top of the genre, this film does not stray at all from the standard formula and does not offer anything new in terms of storytelling. The only discernable difference here is that it focuses more on the search for the missing than the missing themselves.
Based on a true story of a trio of missing high school students investigating a paranormal phenomenon known as “The Phoenix Lights”, the film follows, Sophie Bishop (Hartigan), a documentary filmmaker and younger sibling of one of the missing, as she delves into the their disappearances. This section of the film worked as more of a full-fledged documentary with plenty of interviews and 1997 stock footage.
As Bishop goes about finding the truth, this sequence feels longer (the film is less than 90 minutes long) than it really was and also feels slower as a result. It was still compelling to watch, with occasional cuts to the actual found footage of the missing students, but the result was slightly underwhelming because it never goes anywhere. Suffice it to say, the found footage sequence didn’t go anywhere either. Basically, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those with knowledge of the story in which the film it was based.
Those expecting more of a horror film may be disappointed as nothing really happens until the final third of the film. The first two-thirds of the film kind of acted as a slow build-up to this, however, the build-up didn’t quite justify what happened. The result to this was also slightly underwhelming although this was not all due to the story itself but more due to how the found footage part of the film was shot. While it did truly feel like found footage which was nice, once things got crazy, they became too difficult to follow because of the film’s overuse of found footage tropes.
For what the film was, the acting was still good all around. The plot did not ask much of Hartigan but she was still compelling to watch. Roberts, Lopez, and Justin Matthews as the missing high school students were all fun to watch and had decent chemistry. What was going on may not have always been clear although their reactions helped to sell what was happening.
Overall, this was a decent yet derivative found footage film, featuring an interesting and engaging plot but is ultimately let down by its slow, unsatisfying build up and execution.