The Bay left me with several questions, like why did an established director like Barry Levinson (who directed Good Morning Vietnam, Wag the Dog, and won an Oscar for directing Rain Man) decide to direct a found footage mess like this? And why would the producers pay him when they could have paid someone right out of film school peanuts to make the same movie?
The found footage genre was already beyond played out when I gave The Devil Inside the lowest rating I have ever given a movie as a writer for Movie Buzzers back in January. Levinson behind the camera adds nothing new to the genre and, in fact, The Bay actually suffers from his more polished abilities because the best found footage films are the ones that seem like they were patched together by a madman.
As for the plot of The Bay goes, a massive unknown medical outbreak hits the small seaside summer tourist town of Claridge, Maryland, a place that puts “America” in Americana. As such outbreaks usually go in movies, it hits the town on one massive blood-soaked day, July 4, 2009. The outbreak was preceded by a study of the problems in the water and the marine life by two oceanographers, Sam and Jaquline (Christopher Denham and Nansi Aluka). All of their alarming findings were subsequently ignored by the local mayor, John Stockman (Frank Deal), even after the two oceanographers turn up dead. We are shown plenty of video footage from their research in which Sam often obnoxiously demands Jaquline to repeat her thick-accented words because he can’t understand them (which is obviously just an excuse to emphasize key plot points in the exposition). These scenes alternate with footage of Donna (Kether Donohue), a novice reporter covering the July 4th celebrations and is also broadcasting her memories of the day via Skype in the present. There are also shorter vignettes which introduce countless characters breaking out in rashes and boils, but it’s difficult to feel sympathy for characters who are only on screen to die quickly.
Novice screenwriter Michael Wallach has written a script that is both generic and full of plot holes. The biggest hole is that the government — from the mayor to the Coast Guard to Homeland Security — is completely powerless and inept at combating the disaster but is somehow smart enough to completely cover it up afterward. On that note, Mayor Stockman goes beyond inept politician to evil bastard with seemingly no explanation — unlike the mayor in Jaws who doesn’t want to close the beaches after a handful of deaths, people are dropping by the dozens in Claridge and the mayor keeps encouraging the merrymaking with the typical “bad politician” movie lines. And the reason for the disaster is so overwhelmingly convoluted and stupid that it is literally shit (and trust me, I’m using “literally” correctly here).
While talented direction can sometimes overcome a bad script, Levinson’s talent doesn’t show here at all. Most of the violence happens off-screen, rendering the shocks to be more cheap gross-outs than anything else. But his biggest fault is making the film so damn talky. Not only does Levinson make sure the film explains everything, as pointed out with the example of the oceanographer the movie often explains everything at least twice, robbing any sort of mystery from the horror. It makes it even worse that the movie’s theme consists of a bass line that sounds suspiciously like the bass line from ‘Livin’ On a Prayer’. All of this makes for a bad horror film that not only doesn’t scare, but doesn’t really invoke any emotion.
The only aspect that The Bay has over The Devil Inside is that the plot mostly makes sense despite its various holes. Otherwise it is yet another disappointing found footage conspiracy film. Why Levinson wanted to take on this genre is beyond me, but I hope he stays far away from it in the future.
Rating: Though better than the rest, it’s still another dull entry in the found footage genre by a directer who ought to know how to make an interesting movie by now (3.5/10)
New York Film Festival Screening Times
Saturday, September 29 11:59PM Howard Gilman Theater
Thursday, October 11 9:00PM Francesca Beale Theater