Clark Collis
April 20, 2017 at 01:37 PM EDT

The science fiction-thriller Phoenix Forgotten is inspired by real events — specifically the appearance in March 1997 of lights above Phoenix, which some believe was a mass UFO-sighting.

“It became quite a cause célèbre, from the Governor’s office to the population throughout Phoenix,” says producer Mark Canton, whose many credits include 300 and is a former chairman of Columbia Pictures. “Of course, it ignited the age-old debate about, ‘Do you believe in aliens?’ People still talk about this incident to this day. The set up for the film is three young people of high school age — two guys and a girl — went out on their own journey of exploration a short time later to see what they could find. And they went missing. Then, the film becomes the story of someone in modern times reopening the case to see if they can figure out what the heck happened them. It’s a very unique structure for a movie, both in terms of basing it on a true story, but then going a route that’s kind of Blair Witch-like with found footage.”

How scary is the film? “It’s a popcorn movie,” says Canton. “So, it’s scary enough, but it’s not a gore movie. And as it’s based on a true event, which makes it a little creepy in a good way.”

Phoenix Forgotten is directed by Justin Barber, who cowrote the script with Maze Runner franchises scribe T.S. Nowlin, and stars Chelsea Lopez, Florence Hartigan, Justin Matthews, Luke Spencer Roberts. The film’s other producers are Nowlin, Maze Runner director Wes Ball, Courtney Solomon, and Ridley Scott, who knows a thing or seventeen about movies involving aliens and spacecraft. “Ridley is a maestro,” says Canton. “He was really like a big brother to Wes Ball, and the Maze Runner group, and we all came together and came up with what we think is a super-cool story.”

Has Canton himself ever had a close encounter of any kind? “Have I ever seen a UFO?” he laughs. “Well, I did run a studio, so I’ve seen a lot of strange people in my life. I don’t know if they were aliens — they were alien to me.”

Phoenix Forgotten is released in cinemas this Friday. Watch the film’s trailer, above.

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