Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Justin Barber. Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez. Runtime: 1h27 min. 

Phoenix Forgotten is like one of those films that come out of nowhere, but this is because of a quiet marketing campaign. It tries to replicate the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it’s disappointingly mediocre (especially with the involvement of Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions).

Integrated at the centre of the story is the Phoenix Lights, a triangular light formation that was seen from Phoenix, Arizona in March 1997. It’s never been explained, and is the most famous so-called UFO sighting in the world.

The fictional story comes with three teens – Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews) – who disappeared without a trace investigating the Phoenix Lights. 20 years later in 2017, Josh Bishop’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan), 26, is investigating the disappearance. She discusses it with her own parents and Ashley’s parents as she makes a documentary.

It’s interesting learning about the Phoenix Lights. It’s famous, but I never heard about it, so it’s intriguing. I thought it was just making a generic UFO sighting and developing mythology; instead, it interestingly blends some truth with a lot of fiction, and the unexplained phenomena has some intrigue. That’s what makes some of the first hour interesting.

The story doesn’t flow well as it skips between Sophie making a documentary in 2017 about the disappearance, and back to Josh and Ashley making a documentary about the Phoenix Lights in 1997 (Josh was an aspiring director, so he filmed everything). It thereby mixes some docu-drama with found footage.

Sophie mostly just talks to her parents and other experts who give lots of speculation. They say forgettable stuff, and there are so many boring interview subjects that I found myself forgetting who was who. It’s interesting how Sophie’s parents were affected after Josh has been missing for 20 years with no closure. It’s heartbreaking, but besides them, the emotional connection is non-existent; as the characters are one-dimensional.

Phoenix ForgottenJosh is single-minded and becomes obsessed when he gets an idea in his head. I liked seeing in his room that he was sci-fi enthusiast with X-Files and Alien posters all over his room. Ashley’s more interesting, since she’s open-minded and interviews well as an aspiring journalist. One interview features local astronomers talking about how they think the lights were flares.

Mark just feels like he’s kind-of there, since he has a car. He’s a friend but he’s almost has no dimension. The little-known actors aren’t memorable, but they do serviceable jobs. Chelsea Lopez as Ashley brings some charm.

The cinematography is stronger in Sophie’s documentary, but her film is way less interesting. Her documentary feels distinctly incomplete even when she has a chance to make an ending, and the film doesn’t execute.

It’s also silly that she waits 20 years to investigate the disappearance, and like the documentary, this feels like it’s made a few years too late, especially after the release of The Phoenix Incident in 2015 (a docu-drama about the real-life disappearances). It’s especially late since Adam Wingard released Blair Witch last year, and this is essentially a carbon copy of The Blair Witch Project mixed with a some of The X-Files.

The film’s a puzzle as they try to explain what happened to these 17-year-olds. The mystery’s never been solved because they stopped filming at one point. It’s the one video that promises something happening, as most of the videos are uneventful. Sometimes they investigate the Lights, but other times they just go for a hike hoping something will happen.

The videos are amateurishly shot and Josh annoyingly can never keep the camera on the action, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. The camera’s consistently shaky, but the visual effects are cool when we see it long enough. The filmmakers make it look like the videos were filmed in 1997. It has a VHS quality, and it adds realism.

The horror relies on psychological aspects of paranoia, lots of bright lights and loud noises instead of jump scares, which makes it refreshing. In that way, it does something different from most found-footage films, and part of the reason why I’m giving it a passing score.

The tension is palpable because of chilling sound design. It feels more like freaky, sci-fi scares than anything and when I’m talking about horror, it’s only existent in the film’s final 15-20 minutes when we get the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a good finale.

The first hour has 15 minutes of interesting material, but it’s boring and not scary. Since only a fraction of this is thrilling, it doesn’t work as a feature film. It would be better as a 30-minute segment in an anthology franchise like V/H/S because there’s not enough material here, and Josh’s sister making a documentary in the present day often feels like filler. Director Justin Barber fleshes it out to about 80 minutes and it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded feature. The last piece of the puzzle is the only good part. Otherwise, Phoenix Forgotten is already fading from my memory.

Score: 50/100

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Silent House (2012)

Silent House

Release Date: March 9, 2012

Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens

Runtime: 86 min

Tagline: Inspired by true events.

Yet another film sucked me in by the whole ‘inspired by true events’ pitch.

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father, John (Adam Trese), are renovating their family’s lakeside retreat for resale. Abruptly, Sarah is unable to find her father, and she finds herself trapped in her home. She soon realizes she cannot contact the outside world, as events become increasingly ominous in and around the house.

Silent House offers an okay ride, that has a mediocrely slow build-up that ultimately leads to an extremely moronic and unrewarding ending.

Apparently, this is based on true events that occurred in a small Uruguayan village in the 1940s, and the fact that this actually happened is admittedly a little twisted and eerie. Silent House is a remake of a 2010 Uruguay horror film called La Casa Muda (The Silent House), and the story was originally adapted by Gustavo Hernández. The fact that this film had to be directed by two people feels a little ridiculous to me, because I really don’t understand the purpose of doing that.

The build-up is pretty good, it’s sometimes a little slow – but it can also be pretty thrilling. There’s a fair share of good scenes mixed in here, but the bad ones outweigh those that are good. A big problem with this flick is that it thinks it’s much smarter than it actually is, and by the end of it, a lot of the material doesn’t make a lot of sense. Some of the happenings are extremely ominous, eerie, and mysterious, so that makes for a nice atmosphere for the viewer. Sometimes the film can be extremely ridiculous, because the happenings are just so abrupt and arbitrary that it made me think, “Whoa! Where the heck did that come from?”

There isn’t a whole lot of gore here, so it’s much more a psychological ride than anything else. It’s not a film I regret seeing because there a few redeeming qualities, but there isn’t anything extremely special. The whole convenience of the house not having power, AND the home being all boarded up,  felt extremely clichéd and odd. The panicky performance given by Elizabeth Olsen is pretty fine. It’s not like her character’s a dumb bimbo or anything, because some of her decisions are pretty logical. It’s the decisions of some of the other characters that often feel quite illogical. The continuous take makes a fairly unique experience for a horror film (well, it was shot in ten-minute takes, which in turn makes the editing impressive), and the fact that it was shot in real time makes it unique, too. The cinematography is really rough; it reminded me of The Blair Witch Project, because the cameraman just follows the characters around, I’m convinced he (or she) had a wicked case of the shakes during shooting. The characters are decent for a horror film, but some of their actions don’t make the most sense.

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, and Haley Murphy.

Silent House offers an okay psychological ride, an okay story, and a unique real time experience. The play-out can be a little slow, and the film has the ability to easily, and unintentionally, confuse its audience. I won’t return to this film, because the ending was extremely unrewarding. There are a lot of other psychological horror thrillers that can satisfy more than this, so you won’t miss a whole lot if you decide to skip it. It’s one of those movies that I could recommend if you found it on TV and there was nothing else on.

40/100

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Chernobyl Diaries

Release Date: May 25, 2012

Director: Bradley Parker

Stars: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Olivia Dudley

Runtime: 86 min

Tagline: Experience the fallout.

Chernobyl Diaries is really nothing that special.

Natalie (Olivia Dudley), her boyfriend Chris (Jesse McCartney), his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowksi), and a friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) are all vacationing in Europe. When Paul hires an extreme tour  guide (Dimitri Diatchenko) to take them up to the abandoned city of Pripyat, the former home of the workers of the Chernobyl  nuclear reactor, they’re intrigued and most of them want to do it. They think they’d just have to worry about the dangerous levels of nuclear activity, but they are very wrong.

The general background of the film is pretty interesting, and gave me knowledge of something I hadn’t really heard of before. If my research is correct, the general background is as follows: in 1986, an unstable nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded, releasing much radiation, causing the immediate death of two workers at the scene, and the death of twenty-eight other workers because of radiation poisoning.

The beginning is quite promising, but then it just gets to be a little silly and quite stupid.

The storyline seems original, and the background information is nice, but it doesn’t execute itself well; and I’ve really seen all the contents in this film before. It’s just a messy screenplay. Some of the scares are actually pretty big; but others are just really expected. The acting isn’t very good at all, and a lot of the characters were irritating.

As my first experience for a horror film shot in a found footage format, it was decent. I was entertained more by, say, The Blair Witch Project, but I didn’t really like that one that one a lot, so that isn’t saying very much. It does look less amateurish than T.B.W.P., or some other found footage flicks, so that’s a pretty good aspect.

The film also stars Ingrid Bolsǿ Berdal, and Nathan Phillips.

It’s only an okay movie, it has some entertaining content but there isn’t anything great.

45/100

The Blair Witch Project – A film review by Daniel Prinn – Not as scary as I thought it’d be..

The Blair Witch Project

Release Date: July 30, 1999

Director(s): Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez

Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Runtime: 81 min

Tagline: Scary as hell.

 

 A low-budget horror flick penned by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, which isn’t as scary as it seemed to present itself as.

Three film students (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams) go on an adventure into the woods to make a documentary of the local urban legend, The Blair Witch. Once there, and once lost, they experience odd ritualistic set-ups and feel as if something is watching their every move. One year later, their footage is recovered and their story has reached the surface.

The whole thing seems like it would be set up to be a true story, and I wasn’t really sure while watching if it was or not, so when information verified for me that it wasn’t, sort of just tainted my general view of the film. The film is quite original, though, considering that the urban mythology was made up. It isn’t “scary as hell,” but some scenes can be intense and suspenseful.

The characters are really annoying, holy crap. Heather’s the most irritating, she’s always talking and nagging and whining, which made me think, “You’re one of the most annoying characters in the history of cinema and I really hope you get killed off first, but I know that won’t happen because you’re the main protagonist.” The idea of going out into the woods to film the documentary was hers, and she’s calling all of the shots. Joshua is Heather’s friend, and then Mike is just a guy in their class and he wanted to help make the documentary. When they get lost and all of the odd stuff starts occurring, they really just turn on each other and start nagging which makes the film have way too much conflict and often just really irritating.

The film isn’t really all that terrifying but can be pretty eerie. There aren’t any pop-out scares or anything, but the filmmakers know how to give instill intensity in its viewers. It also does a great job of striking fear into us by using three common fears: the unknown, things that go bump in the night (so eerie noises) and the dark.

It is quite spooky when the sun goes down; because you know at night something is going to happen. Each night, whatever is stalking these film students , increases in danger and severity.

The Blair Witch Project is a very profitable endeavor, having a small budget of $22,000 (if my research is correct) and making about $240.5 million. It is one of the finest films shot in the found footage format, but is quite overrated by critics alike. This isn’t my favourite flick in the ‘found footage’ subgenre, but it isn’t my least favourite, either.

It isn’t a huge waste of time because of its 81-minute running time, but didn’t offer me many redeeming qualities for me to totally love it. I didn’t despise it but I didn’t like it on a high level, and it’s highly disappointing. The characters aren’t very good, but the actors do pretty well considering the majority of their lines were improvised, and shoot most of the film themselves.

The camerawork is fairly poor, with all of their running around and whole shaky cam crap. The film knows how to be suspenseful, but it also can be extremely boring and irritating. The characters are extremely poor, but the actors do a fairly good job for as little as the crew told them to do.

T.B.W.P. offers a home-made mockumentary experience, that can be suspenseful, eerie and boring; offers poor camerawork and annoying characters, but fairly good [genuine] acting; has memorable sequences and builds up quite well to an unrewarding ending (but it very, very expected) and is pretty well-structured, but isn’t an experience I’ll want to try to endure again.

55/100

[I couldn’t find it in myself to give it a 60, but it isn’t a 50 bad]