UK Release Date – TBC
When discussing something like the UFO sighting movie Phoenix Forgotten I asked the question; why is the found footage format usually used to depict the supernatural genre? Budgetary concerns? Or is it simply the associated tropes that have now been established for years? Case 347 on the other hand asks another question; why put in the effort to make this any different from dozens of haunted house movies? Because really this is a story which pays only minor lip service to things like abductee psychology and strange goings on in New Mexico, and instead it relies on yet more night vision cameras and dull jump scares. All the while claiming it’s based on real camera recordings and CIA evidence that hasn’t been edited. Which is about as believable as your average story about alien visitors.
For what is supposedly a series of raw video clips found under mysterious circumstances and simply presented in chronological order… this is nicely bookended with footage of hospital patient interviews. It even has loud noises for jump scares and in one sequence a tape recording plays during and after a scene transition. Technical details and realism are admittedly never that important in these kinds of films. But the problem is that when they’re in a film this incredibly dull there’s not much else to focus on. Why does digital footage have VHS tracking errors in it? Why does security footage in a house and a diner look exactly the same, right down to the fake interlaced scan lines? Phoenix Forgotten had a variety of problems but at least it had some attention to detail.
The main storyline concerns Dr. Mia Jansen (Maya Stojan) and her plans to film a documentary about why people believe in alien abductions. This central performance is actually pretty compelling for the most part, but the style of the documentary feels more like a student project than a professional thesis. Maybe the real life film makers just didn’t have access to any locations that felt like a university interior. Maybe doctors of psychology just like to film serious research from the comfort of a sofa. I’m not an expert. But the real problem is that none of this ever feels like it’s moving forward, and the dynamic possibilities of grainy handheld shots of sinister goings on are never exploited to make it any more exciting than this cosy domestic opening.
As Mia and her crew hit the road there are some interesting details like mysterious smoke rings in the sky and creepy sightings in the desert. Her motivations are soon explained to be less than academic as they reach her deceased father’s home which is right in the centre of a UFO hotspot. If he was actually in the movie perhaps this might have been a good character study; a film about absent parents and obsessive behaviour ruining families. Instead it’s mostly a series of awkward interviews and discussions that go on way too long. They film in kitchens, living rooms, diners and roadside rest stops. Maybe Mia could have at least brought someone along who was passionate about all this so that they could have a battle of egos; some kind of sceptic versus believer conflict. Instead there’s not much charisma from either of her two interchangeable cameramen.
Mia’s father at least left a lot of crazy research material in his house as they rifle through documents that look like a mixture of the same old alien autopsy pictures and a lot of clichéd evil child photos. It’s said he was a professor and a psychiatrist but she never spends any time collating his work to use as a foundation for her own studies. Nobody notices that the place is perfectly clean or that there are cameras conveniently installed in every room; although the latter is at least explained later on. Her father’s old colleague; one time oncologist Dr. Berchum (Richard Gilliland) later arrives to provide a lot of dry expository dialogue, but it’s never particularly convincing or exciting. So at least his appearance is consistent with the rest of the film.
If there’s any real suspense or atmosphere in the whole thing it’s during the third act when the whole gang stops at a troubled family’s home to investigate an unexplained death. By this point the pretence of interviewing people and making real psychology notes has been dropped, and instead it’s all about screams in the night and dazed people suddenly appearing in front of the camera. This kind of thing was hinted at earlier with strange kids on the highway, but here it goes straight into paranormal mode and loses what few documentary vibes it had. Even more cameras are placed around the house and it all leads to a boring but cost effective conclusion in which previously rational people get scared and run around in the dark.
Maybe Mia should have just written paper and given a presentation to her peers, it would probably have had more white-knuckle thrills. It would also been more concise than all this meandering between b-roll out-takes and unconvincing behind the scenes chit chat. This sort of premise has a certain amount of spooky potential as the crew visit the famous Area 51 highway and meet suspicious conspiracy nuts late at night. One sequence in the finale involving their host Sophia (Gabriela Garcia) has a degree of shock value just for a second or two. But these moments of intrigue and entertainment value are fleeting at best, like glimpses of shadowy figures in the dunes of White Sands National Park. You’re better off just watching the skies.