Fourth of July special: Review 47: The Bay (2.5/5)

The Bay

Directed by Barry Levinson

Starring Kether Donahue, Kristen Connolly, Will Rogers, Stephen Kunken, Frank Deal

Released on September 13, 2012

Running time 1h 25m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

This is the movie all found-footage horror films should be measured against, (with the exception of Grave Encounters). The Bay. Not The Blair Witch Project, which was a vomitorium of shaky-cam. Not Paranormal Activity, which was a snoozefest that never realized its full potential, never actually went anywhere, and ultimately became more obsessed with turning a profit than telling a coherent story.

However, I’m not about to act like The Bay was a good movie. While shot professionally, competently acted, having a decent, scary story with a creepy idea, making a terrible attempt but attempt nonetheless to make an environmental message subtle, The Bay fails to rise above its clunky script and the fact that it is more of a faux eco-documentary.

The idea is actually interesting. The story revolves around an amalgamation of found footage (camcorder, 35mm, cell phone, and Skype) that has been confiscated by the government and is finally being surreptitiously revealed to the public. The footage concerns events that happened to a small East Coast town that was wiped out by horrific circumstances.

The city of Claridge, Maryland, has mass chicken farming as a staple of its economy. The chickens are given super-steroid-laced water, and forty-five million pounds of the feces are dumped into the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay frequently reminds us that the Chesapeake Bay is “40% lifeless” seemingly solely because of these lax farming and water sanitation and filtration standards. Though I can tell that this is clearly an issue, I can also tell that it is not the only, or biggest, issue surrounding pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. But this, combined with all of the other pollutants in the bay, including a nearby water desalination plant, becomes the catalyst for the beginning of a new disease.

What type of disease? Frankly, exactly what it is is explained a little too well.

The first warning signs of the disease happen when thousands of fish and birds are found dead. Not just dead, but very dead. Partially eaten. Then a pair of oceanographers who discover abnormally high water toxicity levels are also partially eaten. Then the July 4 festivities fall apart (I just realized how perfectly timed me watching The Bay was) as a woman wanders around the bustling downtown covered in blood, the crab-eating contest ends in profuse vomiting, and a series of people are admitted to the hospital because of blisters, boils, and lesions all over the body. And then the vomiting and pains in the tongue begin. And then the tongue and lips are eaten away. And then the citizens of Claridge, Maryland start dropping like flies. By the time the night is over, seven hundred people have died horribly.

It is revealed that the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay has given rise to a mutant strain of the isopod Cymothoa exigua. It is not entirely clear how people are infected, except that any contact with polluted water can and will cause infection. The larvae and adults alike will take any opportunity to enter the body through any orifice. As the isopod positions itself in the body, it lays eggs, which not only hatch and become parasitic, but eat the body from the inside out and the outside in. The main isopod will eat the victim’s tongue and essentially take its place. The victims ultimately die from massive internal bleeding.

How does the city of Claridge fall under this outbreak?

Well, OF COURSE, at first, the town’s mayor brushes it off as a minor issue whenever he’s not flat-out ignoring it. But he quickly learns his lesson and at least tries to help.

But the citizens who aren’t panicking take the opportunity to, of course, record everything. This makes up the film: a series of takes on the catastrophe that have been intercut throughout the film.

  • The most prominent of these involves a young, inexperienced news reporter and her cameraman who are reporting on the July 4 festivities, and dealing with the developing catastrophe.
  • A Skype video is intercut throughout the movie, featuring the aforementioned reporter recalling the horrific events
  • Two oceanographers who first discovered the isopods and are eventually eaten alive by them
  • A doctor informing the Centers for Disease Control about the developing situation at the hospital, and the CDC dealing with this much slower than is imperative
  • A married couple with an infant picking the wrong day to get on a boat sailing for Claridge
  • A teenage girl using FaceTime to contact her friend and detail her deterioration
  • Two teenagers going for a swim and being eaten alive by a school of isopods

What makes The Bay so much better than so many other found footage films is amounts to two major factors:  1) instead of being little more than a vomitorium of shaky-cam shot on camcorder, the majority of the footage is being professionally shot for public TV. 2) It actually has legitimately scary moments and successfully executes the “Slow Build”.

Unfortunately, Barry Levinson seems to be preoccupied with making a faux eco-documentary rather than actually scaring us and disturbing us. Either that, or he’s trying to scare us into going green.

But what is ultimately the best thing about The Bay is this: not only is the move watchable, but it is audible. What made the found-footage film Grave Encounters as good and as scary as it is was that while the video was obviously very amateurishly shot, the audio is surprisingly good.

Unlike Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project.

Final verdict: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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