The Phoenix Incident (2015)

trailer-for-the-ufo-film-the-phoenix-incident-and-exclusive-motion-poster

“Based on true events”. Have there ever been four weasel-ier weasel words in the history of cinema? If I saw someone walking down the street, spun a tale based purely on their appearance and made it into a movie, I could claim that was “based on true events”. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s untrue, I suppose.

 

Because UFOs and their ilk are quite a contentious issue, I’m going to break this review down into two sections. First up will be a review on the movie itself, technical aspects, acting and so on. Second half will be my views on the event, so if you’re only interested in one or the other, you can just skip.

 

Part 1 – the movie

Found footage! After a preamble involving details of an upcoming war with an unknown group, we’re told that in 1997, a number of people reported seeing very unusual lights in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona. Lots of smart, sober people couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and there remains doubt about it to this day.

The-Phoenix-Incident-DI-1

This is a movie about four men who went missing on that same night, who’ve never been found, and is made up of three strands. First up is what I think is real news footage from the time, second is (both real and fictional) interviews conducted with people involved in the case, and third is (fictional) footage from a camera strapped to the side of the helmet of one of the four men. A local Manson-esque crazy person was charged with their murders and has been incarcerated ever since; he gets interviewed too.

 

As far as anyone knows, no-one disappeared that night, at least related to the lights, so it might be said that it’s a strange decision to have so much of your short-ish movie (69 minutes when the credits start to roll) about a real incident devoted to people who weren’t there. Given that we already know they disappear from the off, I’m not sure why we need a scene shot in a diner where they shoot the breeze about their futures, which has absolutely nothing to do with the lights. The classic found footage movies – “Cannibal Holocaust”, “The Blair Witch Project”, “Cloverfield” – were all entirely fictional so it was as much about these characters discovering what was going on as it was about the cannibals, or the witch, or the giant space monster thing. They’re pretty much the only great found footage movies, too – it’s a genre absolutely lousy with the worst and cheapest that modern cinema has to offer (I know people like the “Paranormal Activity” movies, not seen ‘em so can’t comment).

 

So, as things progress, our four heroes go into the Arizona desert to do a bit of ATV driving, and see military craft flying all over the place. They investigate, find a crashed alien craft, out come a ton of creatures that look a bit like if the alien from “Alien” had laid its egg inside a horse rather than a human, and eventually they’re hunted down as far as the Manson-alike Walt Gayson’s compound, where things do not get better.

the_phoenix_incident_130727

There are some substantial logic holes in “The Phoenix Incident”. First up, who’s broadcasting this footage? Whoever made it not only took the tape from Gayson or the military, but also got hold of tons of military footage (there’s tape from inside the army’s helicopter, for one). Given that the interviews with them are all “nope, nothing weird happened”, this isn’t just an idle question. Why didn’t the Government cover up the existence of this movie if they could cover up what amounts to an alien invasion?

 

The footage is (in the world of the movie) absolute 100% incontrovertible proof of the existence of aliens. It would be the biggest news since the invention of news, but for some reason the people with the tape felt the need to pad this amazing footage out with talking heads of people who saw something once but were hushed up. Who cares what you think? There’s ALIENS CAUGHT ON VIDEO!!! I did like the interview with a cop where the text on screen said “name withheld” even though his face and badge are right there, on camera, in broad daylight.

 

“The Phoenix Lights” can be accused of muddying the waters. Imagine looking this event up afterwards and realising almost none of what the movie says happened, actually happened – yes, there were lights in the sky over Phoenix which were pretty unusual, but that’s really it. No-one died, no-one took good enough video to be able to say one way or the other what it really was, so it doesn’t help people come to any conclusions about what did happen. You can’t have it both ways.

Untitled

Writer / director Keith Arem works in the video game industry, directing voice actors, motion-capture and so on, so he’s used his studio to work on this. And it looks like a decent amount of money was spent on it, the special effects are great and the acting (mostly provided by computer game voice actors) is fine too. The interview footage is a bit cheesy, truth be told, but I’ve seen worse. “The Phoenix Incident” is, amazingly, the fourth different movie about the event – following “The Appearance Of A Man”, “Night Skies” and “They Came From Outer Space” (aka “Phoenix Lights”); plus a couple of different full-length documentaries, if that’s your thing.

 

The worst crime it commits is just being really dull, though. It’s just a fake documentary with fake found footage attached to it, and you don’t really care about anyone in it. The handheld stuff is mostly unwatchable, and at the very least if this was being presented as evidence, they’d have tried to tidy up the camera judder using “stabilisation” software, which is cheap and easy to use (someone’s stabilised all of “Cloverfield” using consumer-grade software and it looks weird / great). So, perhaps go elsewhere for your aliens on Earth faux-documentary chills and thrills.

 

Rating: thumbs down

phoenix_incident_alien

Part 2 – The Lights

I’m a believer that we’re not alone. We’re finding planets all the time, and I’m positive we’re going to find evidence of life somewhere in the universe at some point. Saying that, this event is an absolute nothing. The particular light formation has been recreated using military flares and a slow but steady wind moving in the right direction – which doesn’t prove it wasn’t UFOs, I suppose, but certainly makes proving the case for them a lot harder. I don’t doubt it must have been incredibly strange to see them at the time, but the rather hysterical reaction of people at having their firmly held belief called into question is worrying, and is an indication we need to work on improving our education system and teaching critical thinking to people.

 

I think if we’re going to expect people to believe extraordinary things, then we ought to provide extraordinary evidence, and so far, we’ve failed to do that for anything on (or near) Earth. The standards of believers ought to be higher, and by pinning so much of the pro-UFO side’s hopes to fuzzy footage of weather balloons, or photographs where the taker refuses to hand over the original but insists it’s un-doctored, we do ourselves a disservice. Because if believers make up stuff about Greys, or triangular shaped craft in Phoenix, and when the aliens actually turn up and are nothing at all like that, we’re going to feel pretty stupid. The universe has got some pretty weird things going on in it we could learn about, no sense filling our minds with nonsense like this.

phoenix-incident

 

Advertisements

Europa Report (2013)

Europa 01

In 1989, NASA launched the Galileo space probe which entered the orbit of Jupiter in 1995. Over the next 8 years, the probe completed 34 orbits, providing pretty much all the data we have on the gas giant and its surrounding moons.

The novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, the sort-of sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, was written in 1982 and focused on a second manned mission to Jupiter. In the finale to that film, Jupiter becomes a star and Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter, an Earth-like planet capable of supporting life.

What is interesting is that the data Galileo would send back to Earth nearly 20 years later would lead scientists to theorise that Europa could actually sustain life. A fascinating coincidence that ultimately led to someone writing the script to Europa Report

Europa Report is about a privately funded manned mission to Europa to search for life. Rather cleverly, the conceit is that the film is a documentary about the mission using footage transmitted back from the cameras aboard the ship mixed with talking head interviews with the staff who were back at mission control at the time.

The found footage style of film making has been around since the 1970s (Cannibal Holocaust) but it was really The Blair Witch Project and, later, Paranormal Activity, which would popularise it. Because of the very nature of the conceit, it allows film makers to work with a low budget and still look pretty decent.

“Someone told the director of cinematography that tight camera angles hide a multitude of sins…”

Europa Report employs this technique with wild abandon, using the low quality video footage to cleverly hide low budget space walks and equally low budget SFX. Consequently, it actually holds up against big budget movies like Interstellar (and by ‘holds up’ I of course mean, ‘doesn’t look terrible by comparison’). That, unfortunately, is the best thing I have to say about the movie…

There is nothing of interest here… the story is exactly as you might imagine, the acting, being a cast of d string actors, is uninspiring (still, a damn sight better than anything Asylum or Full Moon have produced), even the score by sci-fi veteran Bear McCreary is uninspired, but it’s the script which really lets the film down.

The problem with ‘realistic space voyage’ films is that they all pretty much have the same plot points. For example, Sunshine, 2010, Interstellar, Gravity, etc are all about some people who go into space for a really compelling reason, x space disaster occurs at some point and y person(s) will have to do a space walk to fix one or more problems.

"Disaster. In spaaaaaace."

“Disaster. In spaaaaaace.”

Europa Report is no different and everything that happens here has been done better and more interestingly elsewhere.

You might forgive this film its limitations because of its budget (and questionable camera angles notwithstanding) but there is no excuse for lazy writing and certainly no film should ever be boring.

You see, these films are ostensibly are man versus the elements and there’s not much you can really do with space, unless you are a good writer. 2001 avoided this problem by having an antagonist and Moon had a mystery to be solved. So it is possible to write around these issues, if you are clever enough.

"For the good of the mission..."

“For the good of the mission…”

Unfortunately, Philip Gelatt (who has written two other movies, both non-science fiction) either didn’t want to write something clever or wasn’t asked to, so there appears to be a lot of people talking about stuff and not a lot of anyone actually doing stuff.

Ultimately, as you’d expect with this kind of film, there are a lot of noble sacrifices ‘for the good of the mission’ but because the actors don’t have anything good to work with (given the number of credits the cast have, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt), no one actually cares when astronaut x dies because of y incident.

"Although some of SFX are actually pretty decent..."

“Although some of SFX are actually pretty decent…”

ISCFC writer, @marklongden has posited that some films get made simply to fill air time (and thereby sell TV advertising time). Films like Europa Report really do support this theory because I genuinely cannot see any other reason for it to exist: it isn’t original, it isn’t clever, it isn’t well acted nor does it bring anything new to the table at all.

TL:DR; “Someone made a low budget science fiction film which would have made a decent episode of The Outer Limits. It does not make a good 1 hour and 30 minutes.

President Wolfman (2012)

Wolf_Lobby_004

This is our first review from Wild Eye Releasing. They’re a distribution group which takes chances on weird and wonderful low-budget cinema – so check out their catalogue at http://www.wildeyereleasing.com/ and treat yourself to something.

Redubbed films are some of my favourites – starting with “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”, but there’s “Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters” too, plus most of “Hercules Returns” and “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist” (along with a million comedy sketches using the same premise). Basically, some cheeky chappies will get the rights to an old film where the copyright’s lapsed and record all new dialogue, completely altering the plot, which they’ll try and fit to the beats of the movie, will have the voices commenting on how cheesy it all is, and so on.

Stag Films have gone one step further, though, by using multiple sources, so while most of the movie is the 1973 classic “The Werewolf of Washington”, starring Dean Stockwell (where he plays a reporter, not the President), there’s a ton of other stuff in there- public information film, adverts, a whole stew of weird and wonderful bits of found footage stitched together to tell the story of President Wolfman getting bitten and turning into a werewolf, while trying to fight off a bill in Congress to sell America to China.

001

Fortunately, these guys don’t just coast on their gimmick. It’s a hilarious film, with real care taken on it too – except when they need a scene set in a hospital, and use a guy whose sole similarity to Dean Stockwell is he’s white, but then that’s part of the joke as well. My favourite bits were scenes where they’d managed to find the same actress in two different but related scenes – so you’ll have a woman in a supermarket car park screaming at the sight of her own corpse in a shopping trolley; or a nurse checking on herself in bed. Or I’ve been fooled, one of the two.

Kudos to them for taking so much care with this. I loved the CGIed “President Wolfman” campaign badges, and the footage they used for the the Chinese President. They got some great voice talent, too, with people like “That Guy” comic actor Marc Evan Jackson as the President…ah heck, I can’t find a single thing to criticise about this! They even make the story make sense from beginning to end! Plus, as an environmentalist, I appreciate this film’s “green” credentials, as they didn’t film anything, thus no waste of our precious natural resources. Stag Films, from their site, seem like really cool, passionate people too.

“President Wolfman” is the third Kickstartered film we’ve reviewed, and it’s by far the best. It’s the sort of bizarre idea most places wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, so kudos to the funders and kudos to Wild Eye for releasing it. The DVD is also packed with extra features – a commentary from the filmmakers and a load of short films they’d done too. There’s also an “outtakes” reel which I think qualifies for strangest special feature I’ve ever seen.

002

Rating: thumbs up

The Devil Inside: so bad, it’s actually so bad, so how did it make any money?

devil

I’m not going to waste time reviewing ‘The Devil Inside’ and award it the zero out of ten rating it deserves. I was supremely disappointed with the film and I’ll get to the reasons why later in the piece, but if it wasn’t for a work colleague saying “Oh, you like horror, do you want me to lend you a copy of this really awesome movie about exorcisms?” then I probably wouldn’t have bothered watching it in the first place. Despite loving the hopeless and the bad, when a terrible film is a box office success I tend to give it a wide berth. Sitting through a third of the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise taught me to do that.

I was aware of the hype and the unlikely box office success of ‘The Devil Inside’, yet I still couldn’t believe, or even begin to explain how it occurred. I think I’m going to try and speculate on some of the reasons, even though I fear that I will most likely veer into subjective opinion from my muffin topped gut and good old fashioned guesswork. Probably I’ll skirt around the question I have posed – how did it make any money?

An American ‘Exorcist Consultant’ called Bob Larson, when talking about the film, states that it is “the closest that Hollywood has come to getting it right in terms of what an exorcism is”. I think he’s referring mostly about the negotiating that goes on between ‘the demon’ and the priest during some of the exorcism scenes, and how the film reflects that ‘accurately’. Although given that this is the kind of ‘real’ shit that happens during an exorcism, I have some doubts about his authority on the subject.

When a movie begins to use the words “inspired by true events” in promotional material, and upsets the Catholic church, when a movie is shot in ‘documentary’ form, and the handheld cameras shake around just enough to make the audience nauseous like they’ve spent an hour on a carousel high on ketamine whilst trapped in a Gypsy fairground – you are setting up a catchment area of curiosity that is bound to grab a few people’s attention. ‘The Devil Inside’ then relied on the idiotic majority voice to be heard, and that voice shouted “You’ve got to see this awesome movie about exorcisms”.

Sometimes a director gets lucky with timing, and after the phenomenal success of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, it was inevitable that a variation on a theme, in this case a film about ‘found footage’, could do well at the box office. Also, there hadn’t been a film about exorcisms before ‘The Devil Inside’ since erm…. a year prior with 2011’s ‘The Rite’. So I’m guessing horror films featuring exorcisms are like films about vampires and zombies, they can constantly be revisited, and there is always a demand to see them. There’s something about waifish brunette’s contorting their bodies whilst strapped down on hospital beds I guess.

I’d like to take a look at something reasonably insignificant that takes places in the film. The nun that Isabella Rossi walks past with the cloudy grey haunting eyes, this woman features on the DVD cover, promotional posters and prominently in the trailer, yet in the context of the film she appears in the film for seconds and doesn’t contribute much other than temporarily startling Isabella. The image of a possessed nun is so powerful that it draws you in. It sums up the curiosity factor, proving a few striking images and a whiff of controversy can stir interest. Multiply these shock moments a few times – a priest drowning a baby during a christening or a young woman haemorrhaging blood from her “cunt”, and I use this word because it often gets uttered frequently during any movie about exorcisms, and you have a scattering of memorable moments that cover up the bad acting and unrealistic realism.

‘The Devil Inside’ has one of the most unsatisfying endings in recent horror movie history, with further disappointment after you go along to the shitty website that has information about the Rossi Files. There is a feeling that the director is making their audience finish the job for them, but you’d say to the director “we’re riding in your car; you’ve got to take us home!” What comes after the car crash sequence knocks that idea on the head as we are signposted us over to a blinking website. Just fade to black, roll credits. Don’t tell us to go somewhere else. The director William Brent Bell blamed Paramount, stating when interviewed that “Paramount made a very bold choice when they decided to do the website at the end of the film,” he said. “And at the time when that was brought up, we thought that was a cool idea – it was very interactive, nobody has kind of done that, and we actually think it’s kind of cool. Now, some people think it’s wonderful, some people can be really pissed off by that because they think it’s a cheat, but we’ll tell you this: when we were making this film, we made a bold choice of how to end it.”

The ending is everything for me, particularly in the horror genre. So for ‘The Devil Inside’ to try and be interactive with its audience, it spectacularly failed, as evidenced by the critical reaction to this groundbreaking move. We’re not quite at that level when we immediately whip out our smartphones whilst in the cinema (anyone who does this at any time when in a cinema should be shot, or at least made to eat a dozen of those watery hotdogs they sell at the Odeon), but we can’t be too far away from such interactivity.

Infuriated just thinking about this possibility. I’m ending this now, abruptly, only without a web link.

– RJW

The Devil Inside on IMDB
Buy The Devil Inside [DVD]