Today: April 17, 2024

The Bay

Found footage horror films have always been more miss than hit, but the hits somehow continue to pop up from time to time, enough for the bigger players to still have a go and try a few new tricks they haven’t played with yet.  And so now it’s the turn of Barry Levinson to take the form to his beloved Maryland, mix it with the message movie and deliver a hybrid with the intention of satiating both horror and mainstream audiences.

The Bay starts by reminding us, with the aid of a quick succession of news footage clips, of many recent environmental disasters, large numbers of fish and fowl mysteriously washing up dead on arrival.  Student journalist Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) then introduces herself via webcam to present her compiled evidence of an incident, otherwise hidden from major news networks and newspapers, which terrorised the small Chesapeake Bay town of Claridge over the course of its 2009 Independence Day celebrations.

Utilising home movies from residents, footage from mobile phones and confidential conference calls with various governmental bodies, what starts as a few people feeling a little bit queasy escalates dramatically once the locals discover “there’s something in the water….” until no-one is safe and almost the whole population is overcome by a man-made ecological menace.

Levinson, now in his seventies, is nobody’s fool. From his well-crafted big screen tales in the eighties through a few clunkers with their hearts in the right place (Robin Williams’ Toys immediately comes to mind) he has established himself with a powerful reputation thanks to his gritty, well-observed small screen successes like the excellent Oz, Homicide: Life On The Street and scandalous period epic Borgia.  Aside from touching the sides with Sci-Fi thriller Sphere, his isn’t a name synonymous with horror, yet he puts everything he can into an attempt to merge Jaws and Paranormal Activity, stirring in a little of the style and the preoccupations of more earnest documentaries likeThe Cove and An Inconvenient Truth.

Unfortunately, it misses the mark on all counts, teasing us with the more horrific elements without showing us the full terrifying conclusions while over-simplifying the politics and science until the results are frequently laughable.  The Bay’s biggest fault however is patronising its audience by reiterating and hammering home the facts just in case someone in the cheap seats hasn’t quite put together that the chaos may have something to do with chemically altered chicken waste being dumped in the oceans, mutating isopods so that they grow in size and infect their fishy and human hosts, devouring them from the inside and bursting out Alien-style to the dismay and confusion of scientists and general public alike.

The special effects and customary camera tricks are all here and perfectly suitable, the viewpoints cover all the bases from medical experts, oceanologists, joyriders, revellers and couples taking an innocent boat trip to visit their relatives.  But without any real thought put into solving the problem (surely the “experts” could have tried a few of the better known antibiotics and parasite destroying pharmaceuticals between all the head scratching). There are also far too many moments where one is informed that this is the last time a particular character is seen on camera without showing us why.

Despite its faults however, The Bay actually manages to entertain a lot more than it deserves to and as such is more fun than most of its mockumentary predecessors, unfortunately often for the wrong reasons.

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