Directed by Barry Levinson, The Bay is a pleasant oddity of a film, which takes full advantage of the freedom allowed by the found footage genre. It starts off almost like a modern day version of Jaws, with shaky camera movements and home video footage showing us some holiday makers by a sleepy coastal town. So far so unoriginal, you might think, but you’d be wrong.
The Bay takes a somewhat staid genre and pushes it several steps further by using the footage from a range of sources, not just one camera: mobile phones, home movies, video conferencing calls, news coverage, security and police cameras, and piecing it all together to relate a story, told in flashback, of gross negligence resulting in an environmental disaster. In an era, where everything is recorded, photographed, broadcast, uploaded and shared almost instantly, the film becomes disturbingly relevant, tapping into the zeitgeist of our media-saturated reality.
Veteran director Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) has clearly embraced the opportunity – and challenge – to tell his story without big stars, producing a sort of docu-drama which, frighteningly enough, might well be quite close to a real-life scenario. The movie starts with Donna (Kether Donohue), a TV reporter on video conference recalling what happened when, as a rookie covering a 4th July celebration in Maryland three years earlier, she found herself unwittingly covering a horrific news story unfolding in front of her eyes and camera.
The horror at the heart of the movie is a biological aberration caused by mindless pollution. What begins as a sunny day by the seaside populated slowly turns nasty, when residents break out in nasty rashes which deteriorate rather quickly into festering boils, blisters and a painful death. With the cause of the outbreak only briefly glimpsed, what we often see are its effects and aftermath: it’s all the more horrific as it is rarely seen.
The story itself benefits from some varied storytelling techniques, allowing the director to follow unusual lines of enquiry, and even freeing him from having to pursue certain characters after their footage has been shown, or has been brutally terminated due to circumstances beyond their control. While this is an interesting gimmick, it also keeps the viewer at a distance, and you end up not getting too involved or caring too much about the characters.
The least believable part of this narrative is how all this footage has actually been found and collated together by well-meaning environmentalists when it is clear that the story has already attracted big money eager to cover it all up.
As a cautionary tale, The Bay’s intentions are certainly honourable; it’s a caustic warning of something that could easily happen, and it will appeal to those with an eco conscience. As a horror movie, it doesn’t quite have those jump-out-of-the seat moments; there’s no distinct denouément, but The Bay is nevertheless subtly disquieting. Where Levinson has excelled is in taking an unfamiliar genre and pushing it into murkier new waters.
The Bay is out now in UK cinemas.
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