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Review: The Bay (2012)

The Bay (2012)

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Premise: The residents of a sea-side community come under siege by a waterborne organism that burrows inside of the skin and consumes the flesh and internal organs.

What Works: The Bay was directed by Barry Levinson, and this is a unique entry in his filmography. Throughout his career Levinson has made films with political themes such as Good Morning, Vietnam and Wag the Dog and he has also shown an interest in how communities of people interact in dramatic films like Avalon and the interface of government, media, and the public in documentaries like PoliWood. For The Bay, Levinson cobbled together his various interests to produce a found footage horror film that incorporates contemporary political issues regarding pollution and sustainability. That combination is done intelligently and the film is a story about a natural disaster with dense technical information about biology and disease control presented through a savvy use of mass communication mediums. The filmmakers show a very smart grasp for how to present expository information cinematically and incorporate it into the picture in ways that don’t overwhelm the story. As a found footage movie, The Bay is especially well done and the filmmakers solve one of the problems of the format. Early found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project were told from the point of view of a single camera but as the format was more widely adopted, filmmakers tried to broaden the scope of their stories by cobbling together footage from other sources. This creates a strain on the movies because it requires an existential explanation for the film we are watching. The filmmakers of The Bay create a frame through which the source and assembly of the footage makes sense. They also mostly avoid the contrived situations in which the characters operate a camera for no reason. Because the filmmaking style and exposition are presented so well, viewers are able to settle into the movie and involve themselves in the story without trying to decipher what they are seeing. Because of that, The Bay is an effectively scary movie. It builds quickly but smoothly; the main story takes place within twenty-four hours, with smart intercuts of earlier events, and the movie is often very tense and quite horrific. The filmmakers employ some very convincing visual effects as well as some creepy sounds and that combination will get under the skin of even seasoned horror viewers.

What Doesn’t: As a pseudo-documentary, The Bay has some inconsistencies. In some sequences the moviemakers occasionally cut to reverse angles and it is unclear where this footage came from. In parts the images are dramatically lit or given post-production treatment that undermines the rawness and illusion of reality that makes pseudo-documentaries work. The premise of the story also raises questions. It is very strange that the entire community is attacked by parasites on the same day, instead of suffering from a more gradual outbreak. The other integral part of the premise is that this film reveals the true story obfuscated by a cover-up but that seems strange because the lead character is a television reporter who live broadcasts the early events, making this a matter of public record. The Bay also suffers in its ending. The film isn’t organized with a familiar narrative structure; it’s more like a collage of events and so The Bay does not come to much of a climax.

Bottom Line: The Bay suffers from some discrepancies but it is quite smart and it manages to be one of the better examples of the pseudo-documentary format. This is a very strong horror film that is as intellectually engaging as it is viscerally disturbing.

Episode: #419 (December 16, 2012)