Night #5: The Bay (2012)

Directed By; Barry Levinson

I got some in my mouth!

The found footage train makes its second stop in as many days with The Bay, directed by the otherwise respected Barry Levinson. I’m not sure why the director of Rain Man and Diner suddenly decided to make a found footage eco horror movie, but he did. Aside from a few glaring flaws he managed to do a pretty good job too.

Set in 2009 in a seaside Maryland town, the story details the sudden emergence of a virus that causes first of all boils on the skin and then eventually eating of the flesh. They tried ointment but even that didn’t work. Rather than working from one point of view the film is pieced together from contrasting views including camera phones, security footage, home movies and news broadcasts. So for most of the running time they avoid the “Why are they still filming this?” question, except for one egregious example at the tail end of the film.

The central idea is that a Wikileaks type site has edited the footage together to create the film that you’re watching. Sporadically we’ll return to the narrator, a local amatuer TV reporter who happened to catch a lot of the events on film and who pieces together just who and what we’re seeing. This leads to my major issue with the film: The narration is both intrusive and not necessary. On more than a handful of occasions we’ll be shown footage of someone and the narrator will describe how they didn’t make it out that day. The first time it’s done it’s for pathos, after that it robs the film of any tension at all. I’m not against the idea of the narration, but I don’t like the way it was constantly utilized. There’s an unwillingness to let the footage speak for itself and I was curious to see how the film would work without any voiceover at all. There’s nothing that’s explained that can’t be gathered from the movie itself and when it’s trying too hard it shows a lack of trust in the material.

It’s a shame too because when the movie really works it can be very effective. There’s some suitably gross imagery at play, from the early stages of mass vomiting during a crab eating contest to the scenes of people with most of their faces eaten away. There’s a sequence set in a house that’s all audio and it’s as effective as anything you see on screen. There’s a few moments that stretch plausibility even for a film like this (Anything involving the Mayor just doesn’t work) and having one character late in the film asking another “Why are you filming this?” isn’t the same as actually answering that question.

On the whole though I appreciated the way it was put together and I wish that more movies took the found footage aesthetic and broadened up the scope like this one does. Switching between multiple points of view allows the film to introduce little vignettes (Such as a sequence with a young couple who go for a swim, the whole thing lasts less than five minutes and the characters are not mentioned before or after) without worrying about the film being disjointed. It all weaves into the larger tapestry.

As for the cause of the outbreak. It’s about as plausible as any movie outbreak would be (And somewhat topical). We’re poisoning the planet people! And we’re going to have to deal with giant parasites before long. This is what we’re leaving for the children of our future. You should all be ashamed.

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