Director/Screenplay – Tyler Graham Pavey, Producers – Mike Mo, Orson Ossman & Tyler Graham Pavey, Photography – Alan Dean, Music – Henry Allen, Production Design – Bud Bennett. Production Company – The Ironwood Gang
Corey Rieger (Perry Frank), Andrew Simpson (Devin Fischer), David Pesta (Ambersand Garner), Orson Ossman (Carter Watts)
Perry Frank heads a team of four scientists from the university as they set up a research project in a rented house. Named Project Phoenix, they have a grant to perfect a process that will allow the resurrection of dead tissue. Through endless failures and dead ends, they try to perfect the process using mice and rabbits. The constant failures bring out tensions between the members of the group. As Perry exposes, Devin has a dying sister and is determined to use the process to revive her.
The Ironwood Gang are a collective of filmmakers who came together after graduating from the film school at California’s Chapman University. The group hired out a house for a month and shot The Phoenix Project there, completing it with $30,000 raised via Kickstarter.
A bald plot description for The Phoenix Project talks about a group of scientists engaged in a resurrection experiment, which tends to suggest a horror film along the lines of the same year’s The Lazarus Effect (2015). In practice, what we get is very different from that – something that resembles a film like Primer (2003) and falls far more into the arena of science-fiction than it ever does horror. The direction and writing are fascinated with observing the scientists and their tribulations and frustrations, whereas a horror film would place all its emphasis on the experiment going wrong in the most lurid manner possible.
I was intrigued by this approach as The Phoenix Project started in. The film is economically centred around only four actors and a single location, never leaving the house. Certainly, director Tyler Graham Pavey does a good job in containing the show in this single location and all four of the actors etch strong characterisations that form the core of the film’s drama. We follow the group in their determination to make the experiment work and see the ways in which the various secrets and drives they have start tearing the group apart. On the other hand, the film falls down for the fatal lack of drama – Tyler Graham Pavey becomes obsessive about minutiae and detail but there is not enough happening that keeps you on the edge of the seat in crucial regards. The film eventually arrives at a real downer of an ending. The final credit is the enigmatic claim that this is Part V of XII.