Following the enormous success of The Blair Witch Project, the film industry has flooded movie houses with hand held camera movies. There have been so many that it is now an official sub-genre of horror, the “found footage” film. There have been interesting ones, such as the near brilliant Cloverfield and the great Paranormal Activity series, but mostly I have had my fill of them. When I heard of this new film I had two thoughts. I was interested in seeing what Barry Levinson, best known for Diner, Tin Men, Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, and Bugsy, could bring to a modern horror film. My second thought was dismay at the release of yet another “found footage” horror film.
The good news is that the film works on almost all levels. Quite the stylistic diversion for Levinson, it is very good and, in its own way, another of Levinson’s odes to his beloved Maryland.
The Bay is an eco-horror/thriller, scarily based on true facts, that plays on our environmental fears. What happens when we start dumping too much waste into our waters? According to this film, it will cause underwater parasites called “isopods” to mutate and infect our waters, more specifically the Maryland bay of the title. These creatures eat their victims from the inside out and we are shown their nasty work in vivid detail. Everyone from local doctors to the Center for Disease Control is stumped as to the cause of the outbreak and only discovers the reason when it is already too late.
The film uses an amateur reporter, played by Kether Donahue, as our guide through the footage. She is making a documentary of the outbreak that took place in a bayside Maryland town on the 4th of July 2009 and, in going through all of the found footage, allows us to view all of the horrific events where hundreds of people died in 24 hours. I liked the way the film uses Skype conversations, security cams, police cruiser video, etc. to guide us through the outbreak. One particular sequence is a stand out. We see, through the windshield of a police car via the car’s camera, two officers respond to a call and go inside a home. The shot is static as we hear only the terrors inside. We can’t go in there. We do not want to go in there as the screams and sounds of carnage fill the soundtrack.
The film’s presentation of the “found footage” as a whole speaks volumes on our society’s need to document everything. It is all out there in many video forms. It is not simply a one person view from a shaky cam. People put their cameras down when need be and we may see the rest of what happens through surveillance cameras and the like. These characters are just trying to get their stories out to others as warnings. It is smart filmmaking in that sense and it shows the film is broader in scope than most of its genre.
The style gives the film both a documentary like and, at times, an intimate feel. We see a young couple traveling by boat to the bayside town to visit her parents with their newborn baby in tow. The narration informs us that they are unaware of the horrors that await them. We are given no more information about the couple and we must watch as their fate is unraveled through the footage from their video camera. These are the characters that kept my interest the most.
One of the most frightening aspects of the film, set in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay, is the fact that, in reality, the Chesapeake is over 40 percent dead. The scenes of the chicken farm dumping the steroid/antibiotic laced waste into the bay is based on fact. It is happening today! We are our own enemy and are the creators of the monsters that will destroy us. This is what makes for good horror/sci-fi. You take frightening, real, issues and mix them with horror elements and the fear becomes tangible. These are not aliens or masked killers. These are real parasites that exist in our world. They are out there right now, under the water, in the dark.
The Bay is a slow build that leads to a great ride for fans of good horror. You think Jaws made you wonder what was swimming beneath you, wait until you leave this film.