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We’ll have to wait until Hillary Clinton gets elected president and fulfills her campaign promise to finally release those secret UFO files to get to the bottom of extraterrestrial visitations. In the meantime, we have the likes of Keith Aram’s mockumentary horror-thriller based on the real-life 1997 reports, from thousands of people, of mysterious lights over the city of Phoenix. Infusing its confusing tale with by now wearisome found-footage tropes, The Phoenix Incident is strictly for the already converted.
Director-screenwriter Keith Arem — who has worked in various capacities on many successful videogames including the hugely popular Call of Duty and Saints Row series — cleverly incorporates real-life footage into his thriller, including news reports and, in what is certainly a first for this genre, a John McCain press conference. It’s all to serve the story of four friends riding ATVs through the desert who went missing during the events in question. Although the government tries to blame their disappearance on a bearded, reclusive conspiracy nut (Michael Adamthwaite), we eventually see that the men actually had an unfortunate close encounter of the third kind.
The filmmaker employs a variety of styles — interviews, surveillance footage, etc. — to give the pic the feel of a documentary, but he relies most heavily on the found-footage concept, with the young men’s travails in the desert captured on handheld cameras and a helmet-cam. The results are predictably visually jarring and confusing, a problem that afflicts the entirety of the mostly incoherent proceedings. The climactic sequence features some modestly effective special effects and creature designs, although ironically they don’t begin to rival the effectiveness of those in the better videogames.
Ultimately, The Phoenix Incident is more impressive for its ingenious publicity and marketing campaigns, including fake web news sites that went viral, than the quality of the filmmaking. Videogame enthusiasts will appreciate finally being able to put the face to the name of such voice talents as Troy Baker, Yuri Lowenthal, Travis Willingham and Liam O’Brien, among others, but non-fans will find no such rewards.
Distributor: Concourse Media
Production: PCB Productions
Cast: Michael Adamthwaite, Troy Baker, James L. Brewster, James C. Burns, Yuri Lowenthal, Travis Willingham, Liam O’Brien
Director-screenwriter: Keith Arem
Producers: Keith Arem, Adam Lawson, Ash Sarohia, Fahad H.Enany
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designer: Tom Lisowski
Editor: Corey Brosius
Costume designer: Bonnie Stauch
Composer: John Paesano
Casting: Chad Ritterbach
Not rated, 82 minutes
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