Barry Levinson, the man who brought us Diner, Tin Men, Good Morning Vietnam and Dustin Hoffman's very good driving, is not the guy you first think of when the words ‘found footage horror’ are spoken. In 2012(ish)’s The Bay, however, the Maryland proud filmmaker visited the slums of low budget horror to show kids today how it’s done.
Quick Plot: In the seaside town of Claridge, Maryland, the locals and tourists are preparing for the annual July 4th extravaganza. Dunking booths, swimming pools, fireworks and crab-eating contests are primed and ready until a few participants start to feel queasy, possibly because their bodies are about to sprout prominent boils of biblical proportions. A communications major on reporter duty tries to grab some camera coverage.
A lone doctor struggles to treat an increasingly crowded waiting room.
The CDC can barely pretend to know what might possibly be going on.
All the while, everyone from the beat cops in over their heads to a teenager with a great phone battery hang on tight in the hopes of survival.
The Bay is carefully structured as the film project of Donna, a college student who was doing fluffy reporter work the day of the event. We’re told, as she speaks to her laptop camera, that it’s now been two years since the fateful holiday weekend. The government had successfully buried any news, save for reports that fish and birds seemed to be dying en mass that day for vaguely explained biological reasons. With a wikileaks-like site and a lot of abandoned security camera and phone footage, Donna has now pieced together a truthful narrative of the July 4th tragedy of Chesapeake Bay.
Working with a script from first-timer Michael Wallach, Levinson joins the ranks of directors proving my early annoyance with found footage to be poorly, well, founded. It’s not surprising that The Bay is a good film—you’d expect that from an A-list Oscar nominated filmmaker—but it’s shocking how frightening a film I found it to be. Over three decades of watching horror movies has numbed me to the typical jump scare, but there were two—count ‘em! TWO—instances where I audibly gasped in fear.
Whether it was the release of big budget expectations or the issue of eco-horror, Barry Levinson seems to be having a ball letting The Bay unroll. The cast is composed of unknowns (although Cabin In the Woods’ Kristen Connolly did make me spend a good deal of tilted head time trying to place her before succumbing to the cheat of IMDB) but all manage to play ‘natural’ believably enough. From Facetime video to security cameras, The Bay never sticks to one style for too long. This is less short attention span-based than the natural progression for the story, which is being pieced together by Donna from a variety of media sources. One scene is entirely audio, and it is simply terrifying.
My point is, The Bay freaked me out. We horror fans know, that's a good thing.
I always give a hand to any found footage movie that manages to make what could (and often is) a style gimmick into an organic method of storytelling
It’s not nearly as overbearing as the majority of modern horror films, but it’s still unnecessary to have several key scare scenes scored by heavy music when the material can work on its own
It’s every girl’s dream to be Miss Crustacean
Fish don’t bite fish (unless they’re infected by icky mutated parasites)
Don’t touch or drink water or drink or touch anything that’s ever touched or drank water. Ever
Now streaming on Netflix, The Bay is 90 minutes well worth your time. Sure, there might be some heavy anti-factory farming propaganda not so subtly buried under the chills, but fearing the source of your water--you know, THE STUFF YOU DRINK AND BATHE IN EVERY DAY--is so universal that the very concept should at least give you pause.