Barry Levinson’s new micro budget horror flick, The Bay, is yet another wave in the mild but no less shocking surge of very decent found footage films. I’m one of the few people who absolutely loved the found footage anthology V/H/S, and I feel it’s necessary to start this review the same way I started that one, by relenting upfront that I am in no way a fan.
My curiosity peaked about 10 minutes into the picture, because I knew someone, somewhere had done the impossible and made a sincerely effective genre film that made me laugh when I was supposed to laugh, cringe when I was supposed to cringe and, most importantly, freak out when I was supposed to freak out.
As the conversation evolves, we sense that the company interviewing Donna is not unlike WikiLeaks, and have acquired many hours of digital evidence from that day. Security camera footage, FaceTime files, personal footage from people’s cameras, police camera material, and most significantly, Donna’s newsreel. At the time of the event, Donna was a journalism student, and her first big assignment was covering the pleasant Fourth of July ceremonies around town. Convenient plot device? Sure. But so it is and so it goes.
Now, the task of new found footage films is to present its material in a refreshing way. Similarly to how V/H/S displayed old tapes that were being watched by rowdy teenagers, and End of Watch used the gimmick to simply supplement its narrative material, The Bay puts a fresh spin on it by having Donna basically narrate the short film that the WikiLeaks-ish company has assembled. It’s footage she has clearly seen before, but her honest candor helps sell it wholeheartedly.
Barry Levinson’s career started grandly (Diner, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam), was capped with an Oscar (for Rain Man), and peaked with a remarkable one-two punch of Sleepers and Wag the Dog. Ever since, his filmography has steadily declined to forgettable comedies and half-hearted HBO films. Noting all of that, The Bay is the best thing he’s done since Wag the Dog. It’s smart, engaging, terrifying, and just an all around breeze. Its 84-minute run time helps with this, but moreover The Bay is proof that even the stalest of genres can (somehow) help revive the stalest of careers. B+
Note: The Bay is now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and other OnDemand outlets.