‘The Bay’ Review
“I don't want you YouTubing!” the panicked mother snipes at her daughter as they sit in backed-up traffic, trying to escape the summer berg of Claridge, Maryland. “Did you just call it YouTubing?” the embarrassed daughter wise-asses back, adding a note wholly unnecessary for the plot but rather indicative of how 'The Bay' goes that little extra step from being just another gross-out horror pic.
We open a Skype session in which a journalist/filmmaker has compiled all the confiscated digital files concerning the covered-up tragedy of July 4, 2009. Police surveillance videos, hacked Facetime conversations, podcasts, vacationers' camcorders and her own raw stock as a local field reporter (first day on the job, natch) tell the story of how this lovely bayside town with its carnival games and Miss Crustacean pageant eventually turned into a gruesome abyss of panic and horrifying death.
'The Bay' is a nice blend of 'Jaws,' 'Contagion' and 'The Host,' squarely pointing the finger at industrialization run amok in the Chesapeake region, which, sadly, isn't as much fiction as we'd like. The result is isopods (Google 'em) (no, don't) that, mixed with gargantuan amounts of chicken manure and a dollop of radioactive seepage turn the water into parasite factories that would just love to chow down on some human organs.
The meat of 'The Bay' is getting to know some of our local townspeople, then watching them break out in repulsive boils and eventually erupt from within as horrifying, prehistoric-looking creatures look for another place to feast. There's a typically corrupt mayor, sleazily played by Frank Deal (whom I should disclose also played the baddie in my independent film 'Body/Antibody,' which came as a nice surprise, since I wasn't expecting it) as well as the good lookin' teens who take their top off at the pier. There's the cops, the doctors, the nice girl who can smell doom a mile away and then there's the whole of society around them that's about to collapse into total anarchy.
Two couples outside the town act, somewhat, as bookends – a young married couple yachting their way to the 4th of July party, and a pair of oceanographers making a documentary about their discovery. This latter pair serve well for (gross) exposition, but also some comedy. 'The Bay' is quite in love with showing exactly how modern people record their lives, so the chatter before and after each take offers some nice recurring gags. There's also a glance at the cheapo regional station's blog, with an ad for hotdogs and a jpg of Osama bin Laden that is just perfect.
'The Bay,' apart from its environmentalist angle, is really an opportunity for Barry Levinson, who has more than one masterpiece under his belt, to flex his muscles a bit with new technology. The performances all feel very lively, and I can't imagine it took a lot of time to make this movie. Unfortunately, there are plenty of moments where, as one so frequently does in “found footage” films, you have to ask, “Hey, where'd THAT shot come from?”
Some of the best (by which I mean absolutely sickening) stuff in the film comes via Skype conversations between the on-duty surgeon at the Claridge hospital and the eggheads at the Centers for Disease control. They are good scenes of mounting terror, but the cuts to close-up simply don't make any sense for the form.
Luckily, other perceived “missteps” can be explained away. What we're seeing, barring the framing device, is meant to be one of those YouTube agenda exposes. Some of the editing technique is straight out of the 'Loose Change' handbook, with over-the-top audio booms and frequent refreshers summing up the thesis of the story so far. It may not be the best aesthetic choice, but you can't fault the repetition or bluntness for being inaccurate.
'The Bay' is getting a small theatrical release but I imagine it will make much more of an impact on VOD. (It starts with a “B” after all, and I've had two higher-ups at distribution companies tell me that a title in A, B or C is a major win for a VOD title.) Alphabetic coincidence aside, it is a movie somewhat meant to be watched on a laptop. My first reaction at the conclusion was to throw up the link to my social networks and say, man, you gotta see some of this stuff.
'The Bay' hit selected theaters Friday, November 2.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.