Most found-footage horror films owe a sizable debt to The Blair Witch Project, but few have aped the genre’s touchstone quite as shamelessly as does Phoenix Forgotten, which chronicles the mysterious disappearance of two young men and a young woman who got lost in the middle of now while shooting a documentary about a paranormal phenomenon.
First-time director Justin Barber, who cowrote the screenplay with T.S. Nowlin, builds his narrative around the Phoenix Lights, but sticks so close to formula that they might as well be called the Blair Lights.
Structurally, Phoenix Forgotten pointlessly combines The Blair Witch Project with last year’s belated sequel, Blair Witch.
Roughly half of the film is set in the present day, as 26-year-old Sophie, accompanied by a never-seen cameraman, returns to Phoenix to shoot a documentary about her brother, Josh, who vanished without a trace 20 years earlier, about a week after the Phoenix Lights were first seen.
Barber does a creditable job of fashioning crappy-looking ’90s video, and Lopez gives a convincingly naturalistic performance; Phoenix Forgotten is at its best when most divorced from its ostensible premise, just delighting in a couple of teens hanging out.
The film’s final stretch is devoted entirely to the contents of the lost final tape, as Josh, Ashley, and a third friend, Mark, drive out to a Native American reservation and experience the Phoenix Lights up close and personal.
Like the Phoenix Lights themselves, it’s all much ado about nothing-not even worthy of a snot-nosed apology.