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The Bay (2012)

The Bay (2012)

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.

The Bay (2012)

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.

Grade: C-

The Tunnel (2011)

The Tunnel (2011)

by Craig Thomas

The Tunnel is a 2011 film from Australia which purports to be a documentary about a news investigation gone horribly wrong. As the title suggests, it shares a number of similarities with another horror movie, called The Descent, in that they both involve people trapped underground with unidentified monsters.

This is basically another found footage horror film with ideas above its station. Whilst big ideas are laudable, you have to be able to pull them off, and that just doesn’t happen here. The biggest twist on the idea is that this is actually a documentary, made after the supposed events. This means there is lots of people talking to camera about what happened and whilst this is a nice idea, it commits the cardinal sin of being relentlessly dull. It also removes any tension regarding whether or not certain characters will die, as they clearly didn’t. Despite this being a work of fiction, the actors actually do a convincing job that they are recounting events, which is somewhat of a rarity in such movies. So you can get on board with the whole idea.

It is, in theory at least, an interesting concept. A similar technique was used to much better effect in the not very good Mila Jovovich alien abduction movie, The Fourth Kind.

The biggest problem with The Tunnel is that it is a really good idea, for a TV show. By which I mean, as a special at a length of 45 minutes to one hour, it had the potential to do something really good. However, with it being 90 minutes long, there just wasn’t enough material to sustain it, therefore there is a serious drag for the first half of the movie, most of which is superfluous. The first 30 minutes, a whole third of the film, could easily have been cut down to five minutes, without any loss whatsoever. It would seem the only reason it was all there to begin with was to take up time. After that, it takes another 15 minutes for anything interesting to happen. So straight away, we’re halfway through the film without anything of value or interest happening.

The Tunnel (2011)

After that it does improve dramatically. The actual horror part of the film is pretty good. It builds and maintains the suspense and there are a good couple of jumpy bits. But by this point a lot of the audience’s goodwill has been spent so it needs to work really well to justify the first half of the film and unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there. If they had managed to extend the actual horror elements of the film, then it would have been significantly improved.

In its defense, it is not too surprising how little is actually shot in the tunnels, in what would appear to have been a fan-funded film. What they have done here is impressive and the last half outstrips many larger budget films. The problem is the rest of it doesn’t work.

Considering the budgetary constraints, everyone comes out looking good and if they had found a way to make more of it a horror, or made the non-horror bits in any way engaging they could have had a good little film on their hands. Unfortunately, what they’ve got now half a film and an interesting idea. Hopefully the people involved will be able to use this as a stepping stone to greater things, of which I am confident they are capable.

Grade: D

The Tunnel is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

by Steve Habrat

Of all the shock films, exploitation movies that bathe in depravity, and hardcore cinema I have seen in my life, no film has been as extreme as Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian shocker Cannibal Holocaust. It is, in many respects, the best exploitation film I have ever seen because it is the one that goes all the way. In school, many people talked about Faces of Death, a staged exploitation film that supposedly features footage of real death scenes clipped together. Clearly, no one had ever heard of Cannibal Holocaust. This film features it all from authentic animal slayings, some of the most graphic sex scenes I have seen in a motion picture, rape, castration with a barely visible cut in the film, gruesome dismemberment, cannibalism, intimidation, and decadence. What is most shocking is the display of tainted ethics from the individuals who should be the cultured. Instead, the civilized are the savage monsters, the ones looking to draw blood, destroy, and exploit. I will warn you that after you watch Cannibal Holocaust, you will not ever be the same.

A film you will never find just tossed on the shelf of your local Best Buy or Barnes & Noble, Cannibal Holocaust is not exactly the easiest film to see, but it is out there and you can find it, but be prepared to do a little digging. I saw the film a couple of years ago on DVD and I never shook seeing it. I was disgusted by the real footage of animal killings, done in such cruelty it almost made me loose my lunch. When I stumbled upon the film on DVD and out on the shelf for purchase at FYE, I happily shelled out the money to own what is one of the most notorious films in the history of cinema. When the clerk saw what I was buying, she looked at me in disbelief and asked, “Are you sure you want this?”

“Yes”, I replied taken aback.

“Have you ever seen it?” She flipped it over and examined the back. Her face was contorted in repulsion at the fact she was touching it.

“Yes, I saw it a few years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I collect films like this and it is a must own for my collection. I am a huge fan of grind house cinema, gore flicks, and hardcore exploitation movies.”

“You have an iron stomach and a strange hobby!”

I am very proud of my copy of Cannibal Holocaust. Call me sick, twisted, in need of a shrink, whatever you want, but it is one of my most prized DVDs I own and I will NEVER loan it out. I don’t want the awesome insert that folds out into a print of the original Italian poster to be ripped, torn, or desecrated. I don’t want either of the two discs in the set to be scratched, ruined, or exposed to dust. I don’t want the awesome slipcover that declares it is the “The Most Controversial Movie Ever Made” dinged up in any way. My copy of this horrific film is pristine. Truth is, there is actually one documentary I saw that topples Cannibal Holocaust called Death Scenes, a newsreel of real death footage spanning from World War II to the early 90s. Death Scenes should never be sold to the open public due to some of the footage included in it. That was a film I almost turned off, especially when the film showed us (with haunting sound) a horrific car wreck from the 1950s, the body horribly mutilated as what I am assuming is a surviving passenger or perhaps family member (?) screams and cries as the body is pulled from the twisted fist of steel. Be comforted that there is one film out there that can out shock Cannibal Holocaust.

Cannibal Holocaust follows a group of documentary filmmakers as they set out to film indigenous tribes in the Amazon Basin. These tribes, it turns out, happen to be cannibals. The documentary crew consists of Alan Yates (Played by Carl Gabriel Yorke), Faye Daniels (Played by Francesca Ciardi), Jack Anders (Played by Perry Pirkanen), and Mark Tomasco (Played by Luca Barbareschi). After no word from the crew, New York University anthropologist Harold Monroe (Played by Robert Kerman) sets out to find and rescue the crew. All that he returns with is their film canisters, which the media is anxiously waiting to air. After a screening of the footage, the film depicts horrors that no one could have imagined.

The film’s unblinking and alarmingly real violence caused quite a stir throughout the world when Cannibal Holocaust began its theatrical run. The film premiered in Milan and shortly after its debut, the courts seized copies of the film and had Deodato arrested for murder. He avoided a life sentence by presenting his actors in court and proving his innocence. The film has been banned in multiple countries since its release, further adding to the hype around it. Yet Deodato has not made a brainless ode to gore. No, he has offered up a critique on the violence lurking in what appears to be the most civilized of human beings. It also attacks the media for their relentless hunger to slap violence on television and make a spectacle out of it. The film also acts as a found footage film, one of the first films to inspire copies like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and more. The way the cameraman refuses to put down his camera and help his crewmembers being pulled apart right in front of him is so authentic, it will scare the ever-living hell right out of you. It has been said that Deodato was inspired to make the film one day while his son watched the news and he noticed the way the journalists focused on violence and carnage.

The film also equates sex with violence, suggesting that we get sexual pleasure out of the violence. One graphic scene finds two of the crew members having sex on the ashes of a burned hut, which the crewmembers are responsible for. This is a sequence in motion picture history that I personally was never able to quite shake from my brain. It made me sick, squirm while seeing it, and actually cover my eyes. The worst part is the crew makes the tribe watch as they act out this vile display. The film also wields a bizarre hypnotic effect on the viewer, partly from some dreamlike camerawork and the swirling synths that compose the memorable soundtrack. Credit should be given to Deodato who pushes the boundaries of repulsive imagery while keeping your eyes on the screen. You will want to look away but you won’t be able to. It has been said that spaghetti western director Sergio Leone sent Deodato a letter praising the realism of the film.

While I hail Cannibal Holocaust to be a rhythmic film that still resonates to this day, this is not a film for everyone. Know your limits, your sensitivity, and understand that this film should not be approached as just another ordinary horror film. It is the furthest thing from ordinary or simple. It never pulls a punch and I laud it for never even batting an eye at what it chooses to show you. If animal cruelty upsets you (I have a dog of my own and I have to say some of the violence towards animals really upset me.), stay far, far away from Cannibal Holocaust. Ranking as the second most upsetting film I have ever laid eyes on and chosen to subject myself to, I have to say it wins as a classic among exploitation pictures. The special effects crew has pulled off a mesmerizing bit of trickery with the violence, sometimes lacking no cut whatsoever. One of my film professors once told me, “If the film sparks any kind of intellectual conversation or debate, the film is not a bad one.” This statement stuck with me as I watched this film. Cannibal Holocaust should and does spark discussion, debate, and lures out emotions you never thought a motion picture would make you tackle.

Grade: A- (Be aware that just because I gave this an A-, you should still approach with extreme caution)