The Phoenix Incident Movie Review
Written by John Colianni
Released by Bounty Films
Written and directed by Keith Arem
2015, 81 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on October 25th, 2016
Yuri Lowenthal as Glenn Lauder
Travis Willingham as Mitch Adams
Troy Baker as Ryan Stone
Liam O'Brien as Jacob Reynolds
One of the side effects of growing up on horror and watching endless cycles of gore and guts, and possessions and haunts is that not everything is as scary as it once was when I was when I had originally experienced it. While I may have built up a tolerance to nearly defecating myself when characters are torn to bits or have to saw their own limbs off to appease a charismatic psychopath, I still have one soft spot: extraterrestrials. I've never been able to fully wrap my head around the true scope of the universe. While we may be the only creatures that are hurling through our solar system on this rock we call earth, the chances that we are completely alone is pretty unlikely. Now combine that with the fact that other lifeforms are likely more advanced than us. UFO sightings have become a cultural phenomenon since the 1950s, but the fact still remains that people all across the world have experienced unexplained objects moving through the sky unlike anything here on Earth. We have government and private organizations set up to look for signs of otherworldly beings and countless individuals telling their stories of abductions and experimentation. One such case, The Phoenix Lights, is the basis for writer/director Keith Arem's The Phoenix Incident.
Blending fact and fiction, The Phoenix Incident tells the story of four friends who on March 13, 1997, experienced the Phoenix Lights (the most viewed UFO sighting in American history) in the Arizona desert. What starts out as a day of drinking and off-road antics quickly takes a turn for the bizarre and then horrifying as the lights reveal extraterrestrial lifeforms are indeed on Earth and they are far from friendly. We learn what truly happened regarding the disappearance of Mitch Adams, Glenn Lauder, Ryan Stone and Jacob Reynolds and it's more terrifying than anyone could have imagined.
My heart will always have a love for the found-footage genre. Audiences have grown accustomed to seeing groups of flailing and screaming twenty-somethings run through the woods and their own homes from entities that we're never rewarded with seeing. The Phoenix Incident doesn't beat around the bush in that regard and I'm grateful for it. With independent productions, I'm used to seeing sub par visual effects and cheaply cut corners, but this is not at all the case. Whether the attacking aliens are what viewers will expect will just be a matter of taste. As far as the acting is concerned, the performances are convincing enough to be entertaining. The intelligence of the characters themselves is a whole different story. If it were me, I'd bail at the first sign of a UFO because I'm deathly afraid of extraterrestrials. The initial explanation of their disappearance is the only place that the film lost me; not because of its execution, but because the acting of one cast member in particular. Leaving them a cold case would have carried a bit more weight when on the topic of aliens. Also, taking place in 1997, the handycam footage that we see is far better than anything even amateur filmmakers would have had, but that just just nitpicking a bit.
I am a firm believer that if we are actually visited by lifeforms from a distant other world, they aren't going to be the cute chiming and flashing beings from Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the borderline parasitic, chest-bursting Xenomorphs. Rather, it will be a species that will see us as pitiful and either enslave us or suck the marrow from our cleanly picked bones. The Phoenix Incident is just the tip of the iceberg on how humanity would be taken on by those capable of interplanetary travel. Cleverly blended with the first-person perspective and tying it to an actual event in history is something that isn't easily done. Keith Arem hasn't perfected this style by any means, but The Phoenix Incident is a welcome entry into a genre that can use a change of pace from the usual ghosts, spirits and woodland creatures lurking about.