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The Bay (2012)

November 18, 2012

 

written by: Michael Wallach

produced by: Jason Blum and Steven Schneider

directed by: Barry Levinson

rating: R (for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language)

runtime: 84 min.

U.S. release date: November 2, 2012 (in select theaters and on VOD, Zune, XBOX, Amazon instant & iTunes

 

Recently, I was asked what kinds of movies scare me the most and while I came up with an answer, I completely overlooked one horror subgenre that still gives me the heebie jeebies. That is, films of the creepy-crawly variety, usually a plot centered on humans encountering some form of relentless alien or insect determined to overtake or devour them. Not the enormous invading ants from 1957’s “Them!” or those wretched giant bugs from 1997’s “Starship Troopers”, but the tiny microscopic critters that burrow into our bodies and either control us or see our bodies as a biological buffet.  The latter is happening in “The Bay”, directed by Oscar-winner Barry Levison (“Rain Man” and “Wag the Dog”), in a horror film that utilizes the trendy found footage approach in a mostly plausible and genuinely frightening way.

The peaceful seaside town of Chesapeake Bay town of Claridge, Maryland is approaching the 2009 Fourth of July holiday weekend with traditional patriotic fanfare. The local community, led by its proud Mayor Stockman (Frank Deal, “The Bourne Legacy”), are all set to partake in picnic food,  parade gazing and swimming in the eastern coast – unaware of the microscopic menace floating their way. They are isopods (think aggressive silverfish spliced with caffeinated cockroaches), created by nearby waters polluted by chicken manure, leaving a visible trail of hideously gutted fish as they naturally make their way to human targets. The larvae maneuver through sanitation and seek to plant themselves in living organisms, eating their way out.

The scary thing is, no one can see this threat. It starts with a video of a woman limping down a busy main street, vomiting blood and screaming amid the festivities. Witnesses appear utterly confused and we start to see more footage of ill people popping up in various locations around town.

 

 

Recording this and more is local junior reporter, Donna Thompson (Kether Donahue, “Pitch Perfect”) who lived to tell the devastating story of what transpired in this peaceful town. She’s gathered footage from a variety of outlets to show viewers the horrific parasites that ravaged the unsuspecting residents. What we see from security cameras, police dashcams and personal videos, as well as documentary footage from French marine researchers, is alarming. People are showing up at a hospital complaining of painful boils and sores, while the same type of symptoms are showing up on webcam users in the area. Next thing we know, tongues are being eaten away and limps are lost. To say there’s panic in the air is a grievous understatement. As hysteria reaches a fever pitch, Donna brings to light the political inaction involved and the disregard of the early indicators prior to the awful epidemic.

While “The Bay” has some problems, the concept is still quite unsettling and seemingly plausible. There’s been movies focusing on water pollution before and real-life reports of flesh-eating disease – combining the two is scary stuff all around. What must be noted though before any criticisms, is the fact that a 70 year-old director is taking a crack at full-on horror in an approach that is generally left to debut filmmakers. Levinson’s years of experience brings a confidence that deftly handles a handful of characters and an environmental message that doesn’t hit the audience over the head. He relies on natural fears, getting under the viewer’s skin by providing them with more information than the folks of Claridge.

He succeeds in this, leaving me itchy and uneasy more than once while watching this creature feature. One specific scene involving a crab-eating contest was particular arresting, considering what the outcome will be. Hint: there’s no winner.

 

 

The screenplay by Michael Wallach (making his feature film debut) feels authentic, yet he tells the story through one too many sources. There’s the back and forth between the CDC and the U.S. government as they scramble to desperate Dr. Abrams (Stephen Kunken, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) how to treat his frenzied patients amid a bloodied emergency room. There’s the disturbing encounters we witness Sheriff Roberts (Andy Stahl, “The Blind Side”) and his deputies experience as well as the couple (Christopher Denham “Argo” and Kristen Connelly “The Cabin in the Woods”) out on a boat with their baby, making their way back to Claridge to visit family, unknowingly sailing into a nightmare.

While it’s good to get numerous perspectives on the tragic circumstances, it’s at times hard to figure out who’s who and what their they’re up to. Plus there’s a repetitive gag about not being able to understand one of the of the French scientists due to her thick accent that seemed tiring during its first mention. At least Levinson employs a steady hand in his delivery, avoiding the “Blair Witch” shakey cam style or the prerecorded nausea of the “Paranormal Activity” movies, which leaves him to create a patchwork of methods in which to report the town’s nightmarish occurrences. There are times when the director trust his audience to be reasonably unnerved simply by what we hear off-screen. Those scenes are smartly crafted and earn their creepiness honestly.

The big problem with “The Bay” though is in the acting, which is either amateurish or totally bland. Except for Kunken and Connelly, the acting here is woefully serviceable, at best. The main culprit is the unconvincing Donahue, who should be a convincing gateway for us, but instead appears to be one-dimensional and kind of bored throughout the picture. Overall, the characters are either cliché or unmemorable. Not a good sign.

Regardless, “The Bay” still does what it sets out to do in a compelling way. It’s refreshing to see a found footage film offer something other than supernatural disturbances or a focus on a mysterious slasher. Levinson manages to touch on greed and political self-preservation without getting preachy, electing to show human nature as it is while its existence is threatened by an unseen invader.

 

RATING: **1/2

 

 

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