The Bay (2012) / Sci Fi-Horror

MPAA rated: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language
Length: 84 min.

Cast: Kether Donohue, Frank Deal, Christopher Denham, Kristen Connolly, Stephen Kunken, Robert C. Treveiler, Jody Thompson
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Michael Wallach
Review published January 11, 2013

The Bay Kether DonohueThe premise of The Bay is that we are seeing footage, provided by Donna Thompson (Donohue, Pitch Perfect), a former news reporter for a small Chesapeake Bay town, of the events that transpired in the town she had been getting the scoop on for their Independence Day celebration that ended up getting covered up by the government.

Beginning on July 4, 2009, three years before the 'present day' of the movie's release, a fictional town called Claridge, Maryland began to exhibit signs of the effects of what would come to be a biological epidemic for people who have been in or consumed the water around and in the small coastal town. What we see is classified footage put out, perhaps illegally, on the web by the reporter for all to see, with scenes of horrific things such as boils that erupt on the bodies of people who were swimming in the water, or people who appear with wounds in their abdomens, as if they've been eaten from the inside out. The footage details a rare parasite that has found its way into the bodies of fish and other sea creatures, as well as humans, thanks to the recreational swimmers and a desalination plant that has been built to supply the town with drinking water. Now, the parasite has been spreading through the town like wildfire, as doctors and scientists struggle to determine the cause of the deaths, only all too late. The footage has been taken from mobile smartphones, security and surveillance cameras, computer cams, and other portable video devices to form the complete story.

Not surprisingly, The Bay is produced by Oren Peli, who made a name for himself as the creator of Paranormal Activity, another well-known entry in the 'found footage' genre. What is surprising is that this semi-horror film would be directed by Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (What Just Happened, Man of the Year), who hadn't directed a horror film before, and his first science fiction film since the critically maligned Sphere.

Levinson says that he got the idea for the movie from watching a 2009 episode of PBS's news show, 'Frontline', about the environmental changes going on in the Chesapeake Bay.  A prominent director raised in Baltimore, MD, he had been asked if he could direct a documentary based on the subject, though he decided a fictional 'worst-case scenario' fictional way of telling the story would be the more effective way to go. In its fashion, it is similar to other virus epidemic films such as Contagion mixed with some of the ecological disaster horror of such films as The Host and the ocean-borne terrors during a popular holiday of Jaws, only without any star actors or high production values to bolster its box office appeal. Even with the found footage style, the film still feels directed, especially with the addition of music and sound effects, especially when it comes to the various jump-scare moments interspersed throughout the film.

The use of modern technology is a point in its favor, as Levinson and first-time screenwriter Michael Wallach are savvy about how devices are used and the software that runs on them, such as Skype and smartphones. The 2009 date is a bit problematic, as there are some inconsistencies with the technology; FaceTime wasn't released for Apple mobile devices until 2010, with the release of the iPhone 4, but it is used here by a young girl to talk to a friend to keep her company as her body begins to experience changes (how her battery lasts all day with the phone on, especially when sending/receiving full motion video, is another mystery).

The Bay taps into the fear of many people regarding such things as rampant pollution, lack of enforcement of environmental protections, government cover-ups, and especially the unknown and dangerous infiltrating the things we need in our daily lives, such as water. As such, it can make for an uncomfortable watch for some who are susceptible to being grossed out by gaping wounds, flesh being eaten away, and large icky parasites that look like giant cockroaches coming out of wounds in human bodies. This one's definitely not for the squeamish.

Viewers may be surprised to learn that the Chesapeake Bay does indeed have a 'dead zone', in which fish, crustaceans and other forms of marine life struggle to find adequate oxygen to survive. They may further be astonished to discover that there is indeed a flesh-eating parasite that had been discovered off the coast of the Jersey shore in 2009, devouring the tongues of its fish hosts. So, even though The Bay is a work of fiction in terms of the events that plague a fictional town, the story does have its roots in scientific facts, which is probably the scariest aspect of it all.

The Bay will likely play to wildly mixed results for audiences, some of whom may be naturally scared by the kind of plausible eco-horror backstory, while other will likely find it either too disgusting to find appealing, or too disjointed in order to take as an effective way to tell a good, scary story. My personal take is that the reality behind the piece is more interesting than the film itself, and with not enough truly interesting developments and contrivances,  there is less effectiveness in our ability to take much of what we see seriously. It's certainly unnerving to think about in a broader sense, and pretty gross during certain scenes, but the in-film scares just aren't there.
Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo