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Review: The Bay


Barry Levinson's eco-horror documents the bloodiest 4th July since Jaws...

the bay montage

Some of the best and most effective horror films are those which lie outside the realm of supernatural killers and unstoppable maniacs, and are instead frighteningly plausible and just a little too close to home. Barry Levinson’s The Bay is such a film.

Originally approached to make a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay and the fact that it is forty percent dead, Levinson did some research and discovered that the PBS network had already produced a presentation called Poisoned Waters (2009) for their Frontline show. Reasoning that he couldn’t do a better job with a similar documentary, Oscar winner Levinson (Best Director for 1988’s Rain Man) instead began thinking about other ways that he could bring the disturbing facts to the public’s attention and came up with the idea of doing an eco-horror movie.

Thus was born the idea of taking the found footage genre and doing something a bit different with it. Using the supposition that the events portrayed in The Bay are the end result of a wealth of previously Government confiscated footage relating to an incident in the small town of Claridge, Maryland being leaked and assembled by survivor Donna Thompson (actress Kether Donahue in her major feature debut), Levinson creates the most disturbing and tragic Independence Day tale since a certain shark menaced Martha’s Vineyard in 1975.

the bay kether donahueSplicing together several credible sources, including CCTV, footage from a rookie television reporter’s first assignment (brilliantly played by Donahue), amateur home video, iPhones and video diaries recorded by a pair of marine biologists who, as in Jaws (The Bay’s most obvious influence), repeatedly warn the Mayor that something is not right, Levinson creates a hypnotic film that gradually builds a sense of dread as the audience slowly realises exactly what is wrong and then watches helpless as events unfold with a terrible inevitability.

...come the end credits of The Bay there’s a numb, shocking feeling of having watched a particularly harrowing documentary...

The story itself is a simple one, revolving around the fact that there is something in the water that suddenly causes the 4th July revellers to break out in blisters and boils. It quickly begins to eat them from the inside, including snacking down on their tongues, and before you can say parasite the local emergency room is full to the gunnels with bleeding, hysterical patients. Blending a series of individual stories together – a girl recording her symptoms on her iPhone, a young couple and their baby setting off for the celebrations on a hired boat, a couple of cops doing their rounds, the aforementioned rookie reporter, and the marine biologists footage that provides much of the movie’s exposition – Levinson breathes a degree of new life into the slightly stale found footage genre by making it feel like a documentary stitched together from the sources that have become commonplace in the early 21st Century.

The scariest thing about the film, though, is that as Levinson himself reveals, the premise which on the surface may appear to be a modern update of the old radioactive giant creature flicks from the 1950s is actually 85% based on fact. The mutated isopods that wreak havoc on the community (not really spoiler material given they appear in the trailer and are discussed early in the movie) are very much based on reality, and there is even a scene where one of the marine biologists pulls a many legged parasite out of a dead fish that looks like very convincing CGI but is in actual fact a real isopod.

the bay kristen connollyThough as a fan of outbreak movies I really enjoyed The Bay, it has to be noted that even though we are introduced to a dozen or more characters there aren’t any that we really invest emotionally in, and so rather than pull at any heartstrings in a traditional dramatic manner, come the end credits of The Bay there’s more of a numb, shocking feeling of having watched a particularly harrowing documentary. (In fact I recall watching a real life presentation, assembled from similar sources to those used by Levinson, about the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the basis of The Impossible (2012) and feeling the same sense of numbness in the aftermath, which I suppose means that The Bay has done its job in terms of promoting eco awareness.)

That said, there is much to love about The Bay. It’s fast paced, frightening, has enough genuine scares and jumps, not to mention gore, to satisfy those seeking the horror side of the equation, but also manages to tell a serious, ecologically aware tale with a subtle but effective message.

Extras on the DVD are a little thin on the ground, with just an entertaining eight minute featurette that given the possibilities for discussing the film’s factual roots is way too brief, and a trailer that manages to make The Bay look like a zombie flick.

The Bay is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 18th March 2013.

4 stars


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