Cinematic Releases: The Phoenix Incident

Andrew reviews the found footage UFO thriller, The Phoenix Incident.

Look. It's a triangle.
I hope some squares and circles
show up too. 
Despite only being in it's infancy, the found footage UFO alien abduction science fiction thriller subgenre has had a lot of traffic lately, whether it's Alien Abduction, Area 51 or the concluding segment of V/H/S 2.  Moreover, films like Dark Skies, Night Skies, Star Leaf and Alien Abduction have shown a resurgence of the extraterrestrial kidnapping flick, proof positive there's still an audience for fearing the little green men.  The latest entry in the UFO thriller canon is the limited theatrical release of video game director Keith Arem's feature film debut The Phoenix Incident, a genre hybrid that's part mockmentary part found footage chase thriller.  Loosely based on the much publicized 'Phoenix Lights' UFO sighting in Phoenix, Arizona on March 13, 1997, The Phoenix Incident marks the second fictional film to tie itself to the Phoenix Lights incident (Night Skies being the first) as well as one of the more surprising clandestine releases of 2016.  This came out under the radar in only 200 theaters as well as VOD and unfortunately likely played to empty theaters, a shame because on the outset it looked like cheap Asylum Entertainment trash.  Upon closer inspection, I was surprised just how entertained I was by this inspired little low budget gem. It makes no bones about it being a B movie but it has just enough characteristics all it's own to separate it from the usual pack of found footage movies.

Pinterest Google+ StumbleUpon Twitter Reddit Facebook there anybody in there?
Alright. Enough with
the Pink Floyd references. 
Initially The Phoenix Incident recycles a wealth of YouTube footage and internet images of UFO sightings interspersed with interviews of eyewitnesses and experts and I feared for a moment I bought a ticket to this year's The Fourth Kind.  Luckily it never treaded the aforementioned picture's missteps and had more than a few tricks up it's sleeve.  While the stock trade of hillbilly characters turned extraterrestrial abduction victims can be trying and begs the age old question why aliens only abduct rednecks, as a visceral exercise in rapid fire tension, editing and shaky handheld camerawork, The Phoenix Incident is genuinely effective.  I could have done without the Starship Troopers bugs for aliens but to the film's credit it reveals very little of the creatures thanks to dim lighting and blurriness.  In an age where the found footage movies (especially the V/H/S films) all look to be shot on 1080p digital video, it was refreshing to see a movie go for an authentic VHS tape aesthetic replete with blurriness, faded colors, tracking distortion and dropouts.  Oddly enough, the film which The Phoenix Incident has the most in common with is the still yet-to-be-officially-released The Poughkeepsie Tapes which did an adept job of alternating between mockmentary footage and blurry VHS sourced footage.  Where most films try too hard to achieve that look, The Phoenix Incident looks natural and also manages to hide many of the technical limitations of the CGI effects work.

How do you spell
Fire in the Sky?
As previously mentioned, I went into this anticipating B movie schlock and am still surprised that it managed to exceed my low expectations.  This could well have been yet another throwaway direct-to-video flick and while that may be the unfortunate fate of this one considering this had zero advertising to speak of, there's actually more spark and energy to this thing than most expensive Hollywood vehicles and for that matter other like minded found footage movies.  The last act especially, which ratchets up the tension to a white knuckle level, is reminiscent of the full on terror of [*REC] and Safe Haven.  Considering the film's director ordinarily specializes in the video game format, including but not limited to the Call of Duty series, Saints Row: The Third, Bioshock and Deadpool, his transition to the cinematic medium is a solid debut and a director worth watching in the future.  

For a genre that's arguably overstayed it's welcome, The Phoenix Incident is among the better recent found footage offerings that sadly will unlikely find an audience until it maybe hits Netflix or other streaming video programs later this year.  In the meantime, keep watching the skies and check your internet listings for when this one comes around.  For a miniscule low budget UFO creature feature and likewise for a bona fide fan of these kinds of alien movies, The Phoenix Incident was much better than I thought it was going to be.


 - Andrew Kotwicki