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When thinking of the director most likely to be churning out a found footage style eco-horror about a particularly nasty strain of parasite, the multiple award winning helmer Barry Levinson, responsible for the likes of “Rain Man”, “Sleepers” and more, doesn’t particularly spring to mind. Still, perhaps wishing to return to the aquatic scares of his less than successful 1998 Michael Crichton adaptation “Sphere”, Levinson now serves up “The Bay”, in which a small Maryland town is thrown into panic when pollutants in the water result in a gruesome ecological disaster. Produced by Jason Blum, Steven Schneider and Oren Peli, variously involved in the “Paranormal Activity” series, “Insidious” and “Sinister”, the film has been going down surprisingly well at genre festivals, including FrightFest in Glasgow, and lands shortly on Region 2 DVD and Blu Ray via Momentum.
Framed by the post-production video diaries of an intrepid journalist, the film depicts the events which ravaged the small Maryland town of Claridge on picturesque Chesapeake Bay. Teasing with images of carnage, the film flashes back to the video logs of two scientists studying pollution in the area and its effects on local marine life, intercutting this with the gradually worsening situation back on land, as local inhabitants start to suffer from disfiguring boils and rashes, before coughing up blood and dying in grotesque fashion. With blame seeming to lie with the nearby salination plant and the dumping of chicken faeces into the bay, it soon emerges that the drinking water has been contaminated, infecting most of the populace with a nasty little beastie that eats its way of its victims.
Although the found footage craze has for many viewers run its course, “The Bay” thankfully has far more to offer than the vast majority of unimaginative efforts, and is one of the very few to make genuinely intuitive use of the form. Levinson, clearly a director a great many notches above most others working in the genre, combines a wide variety of modern media and communication technology to superb effect, seamlessly editing together footage from video cameras, mobile phones, CCTV recordings, phone calls, webcams and more, and combining it with news footage and first hand interview accounts.
Though a little overwhelming at times, the film feels current and vital as a result, bombarding the viewer with the perspectives of its many characters and reporters (most of who are quickly shown to be all too disposable), making the horror both chilling and believable. The film fairly whips along at a fast pace, Levinson giving a great sense of things spiralling out of control, while at the same time managing to create an interesting and convincing back story as to why things go to hell so quickly.
On a more basic level, the film entertains through some surprisingly intense gore, excellent special effects showing the parasite’s work in graphic detail, and the immediacy of the found footage approach adding real impact to its shocks. Though presumably not a big budget affair, the film packs in some great scenes of mass chaos as the infected turn against each other, eerie shots of the deserted town after the outbreak has taken its toll, and other such fun beloved of genre fans. Wisely avoiding cheap scares for the most part, Levinson instead builds tension through unfortunate characters drinking or coming into contact with contaminated water, which proves very effective and makes for some neatly suspenseful scenes, the viewer knowing only too well of the nastiness to come. The film also benefits from a bleak sense of humour, Levinson knowingly playing upon a certain dark irony and venturing into satirical territory as he pokes at possibly wilful government incompetency.
“The Bay” is certainly one of the better found footage films of recent years, helped in no small measure by having a director of Levinson’s talent and experience at the helm. By turns believable, gruesome and comical, it comes highly recommended not only for fans, but for anyone wanting to see a highly creative and imaginative use of an increasingly hackneyed form.
Barry Levinson (director) / Michael Wallach (screenplay)
CAST: Kristen Connolly … Stephanie
Christopher Denham … Sam
Jane McNeill … Victim #1
Kether Donohue … Donna Thompson
Tim Parati … Fair Man
Andy Stahl … Sheriff Lee Roberts
Michael Beasley … Officer Jimson