Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Bay

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.

Most horror films don’t do it for me. Contemporary ones even less, and contemporary found footage flicks nearly never. It’s a cheap ploy that, in its incarnation, was often implored to genuinely terrifying results. Now, the device typically comes off as nothing more than a failed ploy. I had virtually no hope that V/H/S would work for me (it did), and to a far greater degree, in no way did I think The Bay would be worthy of my time. But after scanning a few unanimously positive reviews, I was curious.

My curiosity piqued 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.
The Bay begins with a young woman named Donna being interviewed via Skype about something she witnessed in a small town. One July 4 a few years ago, festive residents of a community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were exposed to a mysterious waterborne parasite that, once in contact with the human body, would essentially grow to the point of killing their human host.

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.
The film cross cuts between many different stories, in addition to Donna’s footage, there’s a well-to-do family traveling by boat to the town, completely unaware of what they’re walking into, a frantic doctor demanding answers from a humorously underprepared CDC, scientists trying to figure out what the creature is, and more. None of the stories grow stale, and none are void of frights.

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.


  1. Really insightful review here. I hadn't heard of this before, but am a big admirer of Barry Levinson's work. Glad he made a good one this time around.

    1. Thanks Mark! I was legitimately pleased (and scared) by this movie. Seems like such an odd choice for Levinson, but oh well!

      Thanks so much for reading/commenting!

  2. This doesn't sound exactly like my cup of tea, but I enjoyed your review, and it does sound like a unique film. I'm not generally a fan of horror. Like you, I often find that things that are supposed to scare me don't. If you really want to freak me out and give me nightmares, show me a movie about a mother losing her child. We all have our own fears. ;-) That's why I've had Rabbit Hole on my list for years and haven't seen it. And obviously Antichrist is entirely out of the question. :-P

    (BTW, I agree with you about prison films. That is some intense shit.)

    There does seem to be a lot of interest in the "found footage" genre. (Could you call that a "genre?" More of a film-making device I guess.) Ever since I was underwhelmed by Blair Witch Project, years ago, I haven't been interested.

    1. Yeah, perhaps "genre" isn't fair, device or ploy is far more accurate. But either way, I'm typically in no way a supporter of these kinds of movies, but The Bay marks the third found footage flick this year that I've seen and quite enjoyed (V/H/S and End of Watch are the other two).

      But yeah, if it ain't for you, then it ain't for you.

      We all have our own fears, indeed. I hope you don't mind, but given the fear you mentioned in your comment, I'm going to link a post I wrote a year ago that I think may interest you. It's the most personal thing I've ever published on this blog, and coincidentally deals with your fear head on. Hope you enjoy it.


    2. I'm glad I thought to check back -- thanks for the link. It's timely, since I was posting about grief this week.

      I enjoy personal posts, and I remember your mentioning this subject in a "movie facts about me" post shortly after I "met" you online. It stuck with me, because I remember thinking you seemed exceptionally intelligent and to have a lot of heart. ;-) Great qualities in a writer and filmmaker.

      I'll read "Movies with Corrin" soon -- just giving you a heads up since you won't be expecting a comment on a post that's almost a year old.

    3. Aww thanks so much for saying all that! I just reread that post of mine. I kinda dig it haha. All that stuff is true - it so perfectly explains my movie-freaked mind.

      Thanks again for commenting on the Corrin piece. That meant a lot.

    4. You're welcome, and as I've only been following your blog for about 6 months, and I miss stuff from time to time, feel free to e-mail me (quirkybookandfilmbuff@gmail.com)if there's ever anything you'd like me to comment on. Because as you know, I'm a very good commenter. ;-)

      When I was 25 years old, my first child was stillborn -- I think that's the worst of the losses I've experienced so far. I was completely nuts for a while. Even 20 years later, it's still difficult, but life is good. And I have recognized for a long time that if things had happened differently, my life would be on a completely different trajectory and my loved ones and I would've missed out on so much. Judging from your Corrin post, you know what I mean. I wish more people were comfortable talking openly about grief -- it's certainly something we all share. Anyhoo, I wrote all that by way of letting you know I appreciated your post a lot. And I left one final comment over there.

      Merry Christmas (or whatever winter holidays you and your family celebrate).

    5. You are the BEST commenter. That's inarguable, my friend! I will send you an email soon with the most personal post I've ever written, if that's okay. It was a real turning point for this blog, I decided to share, for the first time, how movies have specifically had such an impact in my life. Good stuff!

      Thanks so much for sharing such a personal story. You know, it's kind of odd, but the people I'm closest to (whether they've been friends or lovers) are people who have lived through their fair share of pain as well. There's a common connection shared in grief that is unlike anything else, I think. I know that kind of sounds morbid, but it really isn't for people who have lived through some rough shit. It's like a special club. We all just GET it.

      Merry Christmas to you as well! Will email you soon!

    6. Yes ... yes, I am. Certainly the wordiest.

      Not morbid at all. I used to think my friendships (either IRL or online) would always tend to form around having obvious things in common -- similar career interests, similar ages, both having young kids ... or whatever. But it hasn't worked out that way. I am consistently drawn to people ... whatever else we share in common ... who "get it." A difficult thing to explain, but I know it when I see it. ;-)

      Glad I thought to check back -- I look forward to your e-mail.

  3. This sounds interesting. Might give it a look at some point.

    1. It was definitely a worthy 85 minutes, no doubt. I really enjoyed it.