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Film Review: UFO Documentary “The Phenomenon” Is Acutely Convincing

Written by: Hannah Tran | October 6th, 2020

Film, poster: “The Phenomenon”

The Phenomenon (James Fox, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Stretching from Project Blue Book to the declassification of the Pentagon’s UFO data over the last few years, James Fox’s documentary The Phenomenon seeks to compile everything we currently know about those mysterious objects in the sky through the relationship between witnesses, the government and the public at large. And while perhaps not the most accessible documentary, The Phenomenon proves an intelligent and thorough examination of some of the most fascinating unexplainable moments of the last seventy years that will persuade even the most adamant sceptics. Although it feels seminal in its focus on the facts, its aesthetic could benefit from a more cinematic form. Often, it struggles to surpass the quality of a well-made TV special. Even so, its tone is perfectly executed, and it effectively manages to pull off its meditative and chilling atmosphere.

However, once James Fox dives into the wealth of impressive resources and information The Phenomenon has to offer, it becomes fairly easy to overlook its TV trappings. The sheer abundance and vast timespan of information it presents is sometimes difficult to mentally process and can, at times, feel somewhat grating and tedious. Nevertheless, the organization and presentation of its materials is clean, clear and consistent enough to build an undeniably convincing argument that leaves very little up to question.

Still from THE PHENOMENON ©1091 Media

And while not every bit of information proves to be as interesting as the next, there are a number of truly tremendous stories strategically sprinkled throughout that continue to keep interest high. In addition, Fox knows exactly when to go beyond the information and allow moments for the audiences to think past whether a UFO sighting was real or not, and instead forces them to confront what all these sightings may actually mean. In its final moments, The Phenomenon’s ability to not merely present information but also meditate on its meaning shines through and elevates the film to a new level. Not only does it contextualize its abundance of information, but it connects it directly to the fears and anxieties of the modern viewer that will linger long after watching.

Still from THE PHENOMENON ©1091 Media

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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