THE BAY’s Nightmarish Ecological Horror

The Bay. 2012. Directed by Barry Levinson. Screenplay by Michael Wallach.
Starring Nansi Aluka, Christopher Denham, Stephen Kunken, Frank Deal, Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Will Rogers, Kimberly Campbell, Beckett Clayton-Luce, Dave Hager, & Justin Welborn.
Hydraulx/Haunted Movies/Automatik Entertainment.
Rated R. 84 minutes.

POSTER Perhaps why The Bay works and feels better than so much of the other found footage fodder spewed out over the past four or five years is due to the fact director Barry Levinson is neither someone who we’d expect to tackle horror, nor is he the type of director you’d imagine would veer into this particular sub-genre. Nevertheless, what results is an interesting piece of work. It isn’t always flat out horror. What Levinson does best with this story is provide a raw and honest look at a community that ends up descending into terror because of ecological issues. Of course it dives headlong into science fiction. It’s real feeling sci-fi. Even after the movie nearly turns into a creature feature, though one that smartly avoids an actual creature per se, Levinson is able to retain that truthful sense of atmosphere. In part, that’s due to the found footage style emulating scientific recordings, news reports, and much more.

Also, it has to do with the writing, the believability of the story and its plots, as well as the fact there’s such an excellent sense of mystery which weaves itself around the film until all its shocking events unfold. Critics like Ebert and some others accused this movie of not actually having any horror. Is that a joke? Sure, fear is subjective and we’re not all afraid of the same things. However, I find it tough to say Levinson doesn’t draw out all the terror inherent in this story. In a day and age where people are questioning the practices of Monsanto and other big companies, and the governments both federal and municipal which make deals with them (often without consideration of the effects it actually has on citizens in lieu of big pay days and incentives), The Bay is a remarkably poignant bit of horror cinema that capitalises on the found footage sub-genre to make its story real and visceral.
Pic1What’s so eerie to me is that gradually once you figure out something’s wrong with the water, everything after that (and before it if you go back to watch through again like I’ve done several times) is painted in such a sinister light. You don’t even need to go back through honestly, as before the first ten minutes are through we’ve figured out that something is not quite right.

Levinson’s directorial choices work well because he takes us forward through several different angles. You’ve got everything from a radio show to the main framing of rookie news reporter Donna (Kether Donohue) on the scene in the midst of all the madness. Then there’s the doctor via phone call with the CDC agents discussing the massive outbreak at his hospital. Plus, there’s a bunch of the found footage cellphone and camera videos from people experiencing unsettling events around the Chesapeake Bay on the 4th of July. Even some dash-cam footage from police officer squad cars, which is possibly some of the more unsettling stuff; one sequence where the cops find infected people inside a house, all via audio from the cops, is possibly the most unnerving moment out of the entire film.

I enjoy the news reports with Donna because she gives us an idea about how the media doesn’t only spin things into a story, sometimes rather the media is simply kept on the outside, whether because of their own inability to get to the bottom of things or that they’re purposefully being kept at arm’s length. At the same time, once things get kicking that whole omnipotent perspective over all the various plots which Levinson allows us an eye on reveals all the various treachery in Chesapeake Bay, and how the little seaside town got to where it is in the violent breakdown.
Pic2-1Pic2 There’s genuinely unsettling body horror happening, which is another reason why I dig the film. Levinson and his crew make the horror so viscerally nasty that it’s something you could see coming from a guy like David Cronenberg. Instead of focusing solely on the nastiness, there’s a good deal of psychological horror on display. Intensity cranks up near the end with streets literally lined by corpses, people getting eaten alive from the inside out. But more importantly the government failures on many levels become perfectly clear, if they weren’t already before.

The fact the divers were discovered a couple weeks beforehand, as well as the government worrying about panic spreading after the fact, we’re able to scarily understand how these types of things could happen then find themselves being covered up. Couple that with the fact all the footage we’re seeing was supposedly confiscated and the government gives a lackadaisical response and explanation for the outbreak, then Levinson and writer Michael Wallach make sure to retain the raw elements of what makes The Bay so interesting. Because it’s partly the horror, all those nasty bits and pieces of gross out practical effects and the wildly chaotic moments that make your pulse pound.

Yet the most interesting aspect to me is the fact this plays so well as a mockumentary, elevated to a sci-fi/horror hybrid. As opposed to most found footage films out there, aside from a pack of well made titles, this one’s got genuine characters which are furthermore paralleled with genuine performances from the actors to make the reality of The Bay that much more believable. Ultimately, you can’t ask for any better from a horror/sci-fi film than for it to feel realistic. And above anything else I certainly can’t fault Levinson for lacking an honest touch.
Pic3Pic4This is most definitely a 4-star found footage horror. It has the perfect bits of sci-fi and a mysterious, engaging script. Barry Levinson is sometimes hit or miss for me, but always interesting. The Bay is one of his most recent efforts I dig most.

He hits hard at the ecological horror here and perhaps, using his studies of the Chesapeake Bay for the basis of this creepy little flick, says something viable about our dependence on local politicians to make big deals which affect the safety of their citizens. Who knows. Maybe it’s just a fun bit of popcorn horror. Either way, this is one effective bit of cinema and I hope we’ll get some more of these types of found footage movies in the future. Would be nice if Levinson did another creepy movie because he’s absolutely got the chops.

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