On March 13th 1997, mass hysteria and dozens of conspiracy theories followed the sighting of a massive series of lights over the city of Phoenix Arizona. Known as “The Phoenix Lights,” said sighting has been a hot topic for UFO enthusiasts for years, and remains a mystery that the government has been very vague about discussing since. Director and writer Keith Arem has a good idea on his hands with “The Phoenix incident” and dares to combine various filmmaking formats including found footage, documentary, and action thriller. While it doesn’t amount to a flawless science fiction thriller, Arem’s ambition and concept is still pretty admirable when you step back and soak in the entire experience.
“The Phoenix Incident” works under the pretense that we’re watching a documentary, and Arem centers his film on a small group of characters caught in the crossfire during the Phoenix Lights. What Arem unfolds is a genuinely interesting idea that takes us behind what actually occurred during the infamous incident over the city scape. Through a series of interviews and accounts, Arem and co. uncover a massive conspiracy behind the mass sighting of the lights, exploring how the lights were just a smoke screen for a pretty massive war ensuing between the US Military and Extraterrestrials involving an attempted invasion. Along with the alleged interviews, we follow a group of friends as they venture out in to the desert for some exploring and realize that something truly heinous is brooding all around them, and they might too late to get out of the conflict.
“The Phoenix incident” works more as a gimmicky attempt to uncover details about the Phoenix Lights as well as discovering how much the government actually knew, and what they’ve done to ease worries about what the public saw. When Arem follows his group of characters, chronicling their last hours before they mysteriously went missing, the wheels admittedly fall off of “The Phoenix Incident,” and there isn’t much of a compelling reason to empathize with these people. Not only is their exposition occasionally clunky, but they literally walk right in to danger, and welcome this pretty horrific attack by vicious aliens that begin hunting the pack of explorers down one by one. I also wasn’t a fan of the sub-plot involving a survivalist who may or may not have an involvement with the aliens. Despite the clever ties to Heaven’s Gate, the character feels like a gimmicky tie in to the viral website for the film.
For all intents and purposes, the special effects and creature work is pretty above par, with some rather impressive creature designs. Arem stages some rather intense chase sequences that amount to a lot of hide and seek for our characters as they struggle to survive the situation that is so extraordinary they barely have enough time to register the danger they’re in. Director Arem is a strong director with a nice visual flair. Matched with some sharp editing and tight shots, “The Phoenix Incident” gradually tightens the noose with a lot of fascinating ambiguity involving the government sealing any attempts to dig in to the case of the Phoenix Lights, and how much of a domino effect the hysteria had. Arem’s science fiction thriller is not a masterpiece, but it manages to end as a solid genre entry that uses the Phoenix Lights as a platform for a very ambitious and eerie tale about a secret war.
In Select Theaters and VOD April 8th.