The Bay (2012)
(15) Running time: 84 minutes
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Michael Wallach
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Christopher Denham, Jane McNeill, Kether Donohue
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
I know I keep saying this, but right now it seems for every three or four found-footage horrors that come along, we usually get a very good one that is sure to re-ignite interest in the slowly dying genre. Barry Levinson’s The Bay not only breathes new life into the genre, but it is very exciting, very frightening and just might be the best use of found footage since (Rec). Why? Well, because instead of using the now stereotypical design of a bunch of friends filming while events are happening, here the events have already happened, and we get a collection of videos, security cameras, mobile phone footage and the like all put together for the sake of the truth. Instead of the usual case of simply following the events, here we get a narrator carefully talking us through the events, and the justification that she needed to “get the truth out” is valid, and makes for some very exciting viewing.
The setup is very simple: news reporter Donna Thompson (Donohue) has come to the quiet town of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Relying on summer business, the town is about to celebrate the fourth of July, and the beginning of a busy summer with lots of business from tourists. However, something horrible has gotten into the towns water, and on the day of the celebrations residents, and visitors, begin showing signs of something horrible. We soon find out that isopods have ended up in the water, and these horrible parasites are eating the residents from the inside out. A mass panic, and a eventual mass cover up follow, but Thompson (a lucky survivor) feels she must get her story out after being silenced for years. The Bay is her footage, along with numerous other videos collected over the years, and it is her attempt to reveal what really went on.
The film begins with an introduction from Donna, and it is clear that years later, she is still shaken from the horrific events. As she explains what we are about to see, we soon get to the footage, and this begins with the celebrations. The spirit and buzz of excitement in the town is perfectly captured, and a general sense of fun and goodwill is felt. This is Donna’s first big story, but little did she know that it would turn into one of the biggest cover-ups ever. The footage is extremely authentic, and very realistic and the film takes on a near documentary type approach. You forget this is a found footage horror, and the presentation of the events trick you into really believing that what you are watching is real, and this realism continues throughout. The locals are filmed playing their crazy celebration games, local hottie Miss Crustacean shows the film has a sense of humour, and all the while Donna randomly talks to strangers. However, there is something far more sinister to worry about.
The film then uses some older footage to go into some detail about how the towns water supply was cleaned up, and how the “chicken shit” problem was addressed. As you can imagine, this is where the problems begin, but with lots of money changing hands, no one wants to accept the blame. We also intercut with a documentary filmed by two scientists who discover the isopods living in the local fish supply. Unfortunately their video was ignored… When their hideously disfigured bodies are discovered, the attack is blamed on Bull Sharks and the town goes about its everyday life with nothing to worry about. The town Mayor (as usual) is at the centre of the need to keep things quiet, and as what usually happens in these types of films, you will not like him very much. However, the locals refer to him as “Honest John” as seen on some placard’s which are shown right after a moment of terror, the timing could not have been better! To show the films authenticity and of its 2009 setting, placard’s of “Vote McCaine” are also seen.
The scientific angle of the film is hugely enjoyable, and at times it feels like you are watching the latest National Geographic documentary on a newly discovered species. The isopods themselves are based on real parasites called Cymothoa Exigua, otherwise known as “the tongue eating louse”. A horrific parasite, but in The Bay these tiny creatures take on a frightening life of their own. A perfectly created fake Youtube video details the dangers of the parasite, and the authentic use of real reports and google etc prove the makers have done their homework.
When the crisis hits it is astonishing, and Levinson perfectly delivers the moment for maximum impact. As locals begin showing horrific signs like blisters, burns and throwing up blood, panic sets in and the town collapses into mayhem. The local hospital is overrun with casualties, and the CDC are contacted to help. Thankfully, the film never blames or even suggest the CDC are not helping, and manages to withdraw from the irritating blame-game and instead just shows the events as they happen. Of course, you can decide who is at fault come the end, but The Bay wins by not going too heavily into all that political nonsense, and instead focuses on the horrific events happening in the town. The local radio station perfectly captures the madness going on, and locals are given the chance to explain what they are seeing, and fear and panic has most certainly taken over. Our news reporter is caught up in the crazy situation, and even believes that once dead people start appearing, that a serial killer is on the loose!
Levinson captures all these events with ease and perfect realisation: the panic, the not knowing what is going on, the frustration of the local hospital, the eventual melt-down of a town only hours earlier celebrating. The special effects on offer here are terrific, and nothing appears fake. The camera work is, and as it should be, frantic, and the dialogue is expertly written. Images of an empty boat floating out to sea, or a frightening police camera shot of outside a house while we hear the events inside, are all part of Levinson’s game to create real fear, and real panic. The Bay works on every level imaginable, and it is films like this which prove that found-footage style horror still has some meat on its bones, and films like this also prove that this genre can often be the best way to present a story. All the actors here do a tremendous job, and the special effects team have put together some quite brilliant effects. Nothing here appears CGI, nothing here is forced, it all looks and feels like a real natural disaster, and the residents show real fear and panic.
Music as added here and there to give the film an added boost of menace, and it works so well and creates so much atmosphere that certain scenes almost become too much to bare. Levinson captures the real spirit of madness, mayhem and panic and delivers it by way of not only one of the finest found footage films if recent times, but at this moment in time, the best horror film of 2013. The Bay is a marvellous achievement, and a very near perfect film of incredible power. Go and get infected!!