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The Phoenix Incident is a 2015 American science fiction and conspiracy thriller film written and directed by first time director Keith Arem, and starring Yuri Lowenthal, Troy Baker, Liam O'Brien, Michael Adamthwaite, Jamie Tisdale and Brian Bloom. Presented as a documentary found footage film "based on real events", it is set in the present day and focuses upon an alleged conspiracy behind the Phoenix lights, a mass UFO sighting which occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, on Thursday, March 13, 1997. On that date, lights of varying descriptions were reported by thousands of people[2] between 19:30 and 22:30 MST in a space of about 300 miles (480 km) from the Nevada state line, through Phoenix, to the border of Tucson. The film focuses on the main events in and around Phoenix during this time.

The Phoenix Incident
Directed byKeith Arem
Produced by
  • Keith Arem
  • Sarah J. Donohue
  • Fahad Enany
  • Adam Lawson
  • Ash Sarohia
Written by
  • Keith Arem
Music byJohn Paesano
CinematographyBrandon Cox
Edited byCorey Brosius
  • PCB Productions
Distributed byConcourse Media (United States)
Release date
  • September 7, 2015 (2015-09-07) (United Kingdom)[1]
  • March 10, 2016 (2016-03-10) (limited)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million


The Phoenix Incident begins with the night vision observation of a scorpion, moving across the screen before cutting to a series of military firefight engagements in Damal, Turkey, Dayr Az Zawr, Syria and Mogadishu, Banadir, Somalia, often with alien cries heard during these engagements. Expository text explains that, since 1997, the United States military has been engaged in a covert war against "forces of unknown origin", and that "57 incidents have spread across Asia, Europe and Russia." It goes on to note that NATO notes that alien invasion forces will reach populated areas within two years, and that the conflict itself is in retaliation for an incident in Phoenix, Arizona on March 17, 1997. The film notes that it is dedicated to "members of the intelligence community who provided evidence that made the film possible".

Tying into the film's viral campaign, the film introduces the disappearance of four Arizona men. Heaven's Gate cult member Walton S. Gayson, initially held as a suspect in the murder of the four men, was taken into federal custody. Later, the search for the men was suspended, concluding that the four men had been killed in a bear attack, a conclusion which the local medical examiner denies, but was ordered to list as the cause of death.

The documentary style film moves between two complementary plotlines; the first is a filmed interview with an unidentified Air Force pilot who exposes, despite likely repercussions, the truth about what happened to four missing civilian men on the Phoenix Lights. The second plotline comes from recovered filmed footage ("The Lauder Tapes") by one of four men: Glenn Lauder (Lowenthal), Mitch Adams (Willingham), Ryan Stone (Baker) and Jacob Reynolds (O'Brien). Lauder cannibalizes several different cameras, even duct taping a camcorder to the side of his ATV helmet. It is from these cameras that most of the footage is derived.

The interviewed officer details how the military detected the approach of a triangular-shaped object in the tail of the passing Hale-Bopp comet until it began to descend into Earth's atmosphere over Arizona. Later, the object goes missing and two KH satellites in the area had stopped transmitting.

The men decide to go out to the foothills by the Estrella Sierra to spend time together and ride their ATVs. Mitch, whose brother was a former US Marine is excited about the trip, his friends substantially less so. While packing their truck for the trip, the men notice a growing military air presence in the area, first helicopters and then F-15 fighter jets and A-10's, as well as odd atmospheric disturbances. When they embark on their trip in Ryan's truck, which suddenly breaks down in the foothills. Jacob tries to repair the damage to the vehicle while the others try to find someplace call for Roadside assistance. They come across a desert compound, protected by an electrified fence, owned by reclusive Heaven's Gate cult member Walton S. Gayson (Adamthwaite). A highly agitated Gayson accosts Jacob at the truck, warning them that he must leave immediately. Despite the warning, the men set off in their ATVs into the foothills.

Further questioned, the Air Force officer details how several "bogeys" had entered Nevada's airspace before turning towards Phoenix. By this time, several eyewitnesses had already seen the multiple crafts, and Operation Snowbird goes into effect: a diversion operation to distract the civilian population with decoy flares while an aerial dogfight ensues between Air Force jets and the unidentified craft at the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range.

The four men witness the dogfight when an alien craft is disabled and crashes into a nearby hill. Mitch's brother had been killed in a helicopter crash, so he decides to try and render aid to what he presumes is a human pilot. Upon reaching the downed craft, before the military can respond, the men are attacked by defensive creatures that faintly resembles man-sized scorpions; Jacob is severely injured in the attack. Their ATVs are destroyed by the aliens, and they take refuge in Gayson's compound. Gayson, a former Heaven's Gate cult member, has been awaiting the coming of the creatures for years to be abducted and taken to a "higher plane" of existence, and turns off the electric fence, letting the creatures in.

In the final act, Jacob is taken, and Mitch is killed attempting to defend the men. Ryan and Glenn are almost rescued by a military helicopter, but it is shot down. Ryan is dragged off by one of the creatures and Glenn's helmet coming off as screams fill the air. Gayson later finds the helmet and recovers the camcorder's film.

In a post-credits scene, after his release from prison, a clean-shaven Gayson douses himself in gas and sets himself afire, preparing to 'rise above this world". The scene leads viewers into the online viral campaign, revealing how the Lauder Tapes were discovered.


  • Yuri Lowenthal as Glenn Lauder
    • Mason Joyce as Glenn (Age 4)
  • Travis Willingham as Mitch Adams
  • Troy Baker as Ryan Stone
  • Liam O'Brien as Jacob Reynolds
  • Michael Adamthwaite as Walton Samuel Gayson
  • Brian Bloom as LAFB Pilot
  • Jamie Tisdale as Melissa Henessey
  • James Patrick Stewart as David Collins
  • Fife Symington III as Himself
  • John McCain as Himself
  • Mark Withers as Bill Lauder
  • Deborah Geffner as Susan Lauder
    • Leah Stoltz as Young Susan Lauder
  • Maria Bobeva as Sue Ellen Gayson
  • Constance Broge as Michelle Stone
  • Paul Thomas Arnold as Daniel Adams
  • James Burns as Ken Adams
  • Randy Hamilton as DMAF pilot
  • Frances Barwood as Herself
  • Timothy Ley as Himself
  • Jamie Fauth as Carl Conner
  • Matthew Godbey as Avondale Officer
  • Ryan Keating as Lt. Col. James Edwards
  • Holgie Forrester as Marsha Reynolds
  • William Goldman as Dr. Robert Weissman, M.E.
  • James Brewster as Major Jonathan Shapiro
  • Elise Muller as Krissy Thompson
  • Tony Prince as Rick Thompson
  • Dan Willoughby as Cmdr Bryce Shepard
  • Scot Ruggles as Lt. S. Jordan
  • Mark McClain Wilson as Police 1
  • Erika Elyse as Police 2
  • Ron Ross as Henry Reynolds
  • Brandon White as Mark Adams
  • Mary Beth McDade as Herself
  • Rick Debruhl as Himself
  • Rebecca Grant as Herself
  • Tamara Henry as Herself
  • Rick Chambers as Himself
  • Cher Calvin as Herself
  • Craig Michaels as Himself
  • Tom McNamara as Himself
  • Marla Tellez as Herself
  • Micah Olman as Himself
  • Michael Watkiss as Himself
  • Valerie Arem as Operator
  • Matthew Mercer as Pilot
  • Paul Vinson as Tow Truck Driver
  • Arif S. Kinchen as Eyewitness
  • Jeff Boatman as Helicopter Pilot


Before production and release of the movie, Director Keith Arem, noted for his work in video games and graphic novels, began a four-year long transmedia marketing campaign, using twenty hidden websites, social media accounts, and blogs to drop "digital breadcrumbs" about a "vast military cover-up over the disappearance of four friends off-roading in the mountains near Phoenix after witnessing the U.S. military shoot down a UFO". This viral marketing campaign was so effective that the U.S. Department of Justice and Arizona military officials investigated the film makers, and many news media outlets such as The Mirror (a British tabloid), Yahoo News (a US-based news aggregator) and the Business Standard (an Indian English-language daily newspaper) reported the viral marketing campaign as real news events.[3]


The Phoenix Incident was initially theatrically released with Fathom Events on March 10, 2016.[4] An international version of the film was pre-released in the UK on September 7, 2015. The filmmakers partnered with gaming, UFO, and horror sites to promote the film's viral campaign, and released over 4 hours of additional content and story from the film. The film was awarded Best Feature at the Capital Cities Film Festival, Best Feature at the ICE Film Festival, and Vision Award at the Boston SciFi Film Festival. The movie was nominated for Best Horror at the Palm Beach Film Festival, and showcased at the BIFAN International Film Festival in South Korea. The film was featured at the 69th Roswell Festival in New Mexico. The film won Best Narrative Feature and Best Director at the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival.

The film makers utilized social media sites and sponsors, including Fathom Events, AMC, Hollywood Today, Regal, Fandango, Celestron, Shazam, and Lootcrate to distribute hidden content and supplemental clips from the motion picture and viral campaign. Director Keith Arem announced that an interactive/investigation version of the film as an iOS app[5] would be released to contain all of the hidden content from the entire campaign. The Phoenix Interactive UFO Investigation App was released July 2019 at San Diego Comic Con.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Messiano, Marissa (May 22, 2016). "Director Keith Arem Talks Controversies, Mysteries in New Film 'The Phoenix Incident'". Popwrapped. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  2. ^ Price, Richard (June 18, 1997). "Arizonans say the truth about UFO is out there" (PDF). USA Today. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  3. ^ Karlin, Susan. "How Gaming Director Keith Arem Developed His First "Transmedia" Film". Fast Company & Inc. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  4. ^ Snider, Mike (February 29, 2016). "Transmedia film explores 'The Phoenix Incident'". USA Today. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  5. ^ "How Gaming Director Keith Arem Developed His First "Transmedia" Film". Fast Company. February 9, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2018.

External linksEdit