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The Bay

2012 | 84 min | R | 1.85:1

The Bay


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Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012
 01 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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The Bay Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 8, 2012

The found-footage experience has been a young man’s game in recent years, allowing hungry filmmakers a chance to tell a horror story on a shoestring budget, using the trendy subgenre to establish themselves. Enter Barry Levinson, the 70-year-old director of such hits as “Rain Man” and “The Natural,” who summons his years of experience and mature tastes to construct “The Bay,” a genuinely frightening production that’s easily the strongest, most plausible found-footage feature to date. Blending real-world environmental woes with a few wicked jolts of gore and public panic, Levinson cuts through the unrelenting nonsense that plagues so many of these efforts, preying on everyday fears to fashion a terror tale that slips right under the skin.

In the summer of 2009, the peaceful seaside town of Claridge, Maryland is about to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with a main street festival, attracting a majority of the local community. Unfortunately, the festivities are cut short by a microscopic menace, with isopods that have developed in the polluted waters, feasting on fish from the inside out, working their way into humans through water consumption. At first identified through rashes and boils, the pests soon devour the innards of their human hosts, causing mayhem once the residents of Claridge comprehend the viciousness of their enemy. Bringing the story to the screen is an environmental group that’s landed an interview with Donna (Kether Donohue), a junior reporter for the local news station who witnessed the hysteria firsthand. Gathering suppressed footage from local law enforcement dashcams, cell phone conversations, and home videos, the filmmakers hope to create a portrait of the political corruption and general indifference to the warning signs that predated the invasion.

Instead of ghostly hauntings, demonic events, or a mega-monster attack, “The Bay” seeks to scare its audience with a heaping helping of reality, using the increasing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay as a starting point for terrible happenings. Although the picture is amplified for effect, there’s a disconcerting authenticity to the screenplay by Michael Wallach, who employs the isopods (a cockroach-like sea crustacean) as a real-world menace, playing mercilessly with the escalation of these awful parasites. Pollution is a key factor here, with the local mayor playing coy about the poisoning of the bay, with a nearby chicken farm dumping tons of steroid-infused fecal matter into the water without care, the offense hiding in the shadow of a nearby salinization plant that’s touted as the cure-all for local drinking water. Of course, larvae have managed to sneak through the filtration systems, making every encounter with water during “The Bay” a horrifying moment of contamination.

The isopods are treated with genuine horror, with Levinson masterminding a few chilling scenes of infestation, displaying in bloody detail the end game for these creatures, who develop inside their human hosts and eventually eat their way out. However, “The Bay” isn’t about overt scares, it selects a sinister tone of disregard, tracing censored footage back a few weeks before the breakout, observing a pair of marine scientists uncover the isopod threat while studying local fish. From there, “The Bay” turns into a game of hot potato, where the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Government both downplay any responsibility for knowledge of the situation, while the filmmakers display evidence that word of pollution and its devastating aftermath was funneled to the proper people all along. “The Bay” does a fantastic job making the viewer feel unnerved by these violations of protection, with officials dodging blame for any wrongdoing, creating a sickening sensation as Levinson pounds home the reality that the people in charge, the forces we depend on in a time of crisis, are only out to protect their own interests, with greed and indifference creating certain doom.

One of Levinson’s greatest accomplishments with “The Bay” is his effort to keep the found-footage concept believable, constructing a patchwork quilt of woe as digital images of confusion, terror, and fatality make up the viewing experience, narrated by Donna, still woozy from the taxing experience. There are a few cheap moments of shock intended to frighten those not paying attention, but the majority of “The Bay” feels impressively raw, like an authentic offering of underground journalism. The picture is one of the more successfully unnerving movies of the year, wisely electing a path of natural hazard over the repetition of supernatural occurrences.

Starring: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Christopher Denham, Frank Deal (I)
Director: Barry Levinson

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