by Craig Thomas
Horror film The Bay is, you’ve guessed it, a found footage movie. “Oh no,” I hear you cry, “not another one!” Yes, another one. “Really?” Yes. “Really?!” Yes, now please stop asking.
The Bay tells the story of a quiet town by the sea which has untold horrors thrust upon them from beneath the water.
The story is told by a former journalist, Donna (played by Kether Donohue) who just happened to be there with her cameraman covering a fluff piece about some festival or another. We are informed, via a webcam interview, that this (and all associated footage) was covered up by the US government. We then learn this footage was stolen and leaked by a Wikileaks type hacking group (mmm, topical). Our journalist has now spliced together the footage to create a documentary to “expose” the cover-up and the tragedy of what happened on that July 4th weekend. This is how the film continues throughout, with voiceovers and subtitles to provide context for what we’re seeing.
Somewhat surprisingly this idea actually works. By setting it at a carnival it gives an excuse for a lot of people to be recording the initial proceedings and making the protagonist a journalist allows the filming to continue throughout. Even the hospital scenes are well done with people recording the full waiting rooms for one reason or another, but more important here is the role of Doctor Michaels (played by Kenny Alfonso). Struggling to work out what is going on, he videochats with the Centre for Disease Control, which in turns allows us to see how the outside world is reacting to the outbreak. At times however, it does fall back onto the old “why are you filming this?” question which inevitably pops up in such films, but for the most part it seems a perfectly reasonable setup.
For a low budget film, both the acting (from as cast of relative unknowns) and the script (from single IMDB credit Michael Wallach) are pretty decent. There are a couple of slightly clunky moments, but for the most part it is solid. There also aren’t any lulls. Every scene has almost by default, a sense of peril because we know what is going on even when the characters don’t. Part of the credit goes to the script, part goes to director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam, Sleepers). He does a good job balancing what the audience needs to see with maintaining an authentic amateur documentary feel to the project.
By making the monster essentially invisible it intends to scare on a base level, as well as saving on special effects in a much more efficient manner than the deeply disappointing Chernobyl Diaries. The shots of sores and blisters and partially digested flesh are unpleasant and are used rather sparingly to increase the impact and, one suspects, to hide their relative cheapness. Whilst a lot of films scrimp and save on effects (and as a by-product, scares) for a big though often unimpressive finale, The Bay sidesteps that trap. However, the ending is not entirely satisfactory and I suspect it will split viewer’s opinions
This is very much an eco-horror movie with a strong “pollution is bad” moral to it. At its heart it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Bad stuff is put into the water, sea creatures mutate into unstoppable killing machines, chaos ensues. This isn’t Jaws in that the terror is confined to the waters, nor is it something like The Host where a big creature is running amok in the city. This is a small scale-story told through the inter-connecting tales of a number of different characters. To that extent, it works quite well. There is a constant sense of unease about the place as people react to a series of seemingly unconnected incidents through their own world view. It is only when the size of the problem is too great to deal with that people realize what is happening.
Whilst this is not the greatest film in the world, or indeed the scariest, it does convey a constant sense of unease throughout which puts it head and shoulders above a lot horror these days. The ending is somewhat of a letdown and will surely divide people who see this, but it is worth seeing just to see that a good idea, well executed can mean a found footage film needn’t be stupid and/or a waste of potential.