Review: The Bay
The conventional pitch of found-footage horror is partly as a testament from beyond the grave, sometimes even at the macabre price of its maker’s death. The reality-trumpeting frame story has existed for centuries in literature, but in the cinematic wave of empirical, pseudo-handheld affairs, the charge from watching it is fueled by a different source. The terror comes from the existential claustrophobia, fed by a visually constrained point of view and by characters whose fates seem doubly sealed already, alive only in recorded retrospect.
In the case of The Bay, the movie we’re watching is supposed to be the work of a former cub reporter who happened to be on the scene That Fateful Day, when a plague of mutated sea parasites ate their way through the inhabitants of a seaside Maryland town. To add insult to injury, the bloody events unfolded on the Fourth of July, though we also see earlier footage that foretold the worst, such as two marine biologists finding the creepy-crawlies in local fish. Multiple storylines unfold—Donna’s on-the-spot TV reports (getting more than she bargained, à la [REC]), a clueless couple-with-baby on a boat, a doctor at an overrun hospital—variously presented as cameraman footage, Skype conversations, cell-phone video, and fixed-angle surveillance shots.
All of this degraded-video action is punctuated with the Donna of today commenting on the proliferating sequences, and on her own commentary. But the wandering structure of these sequences is the chief misstep by director Barry Levinson, who seems invested in a run-of-the-mill government-cover-up angle (cf. Wag the Dog) as well as the what-if science and eyes-everywhere topicality. Rather than ramping up the suspense, the ubiquitous perspectives, some occurring in the past, make the movie feel diffuse, an exercise in channel-surfing assemblage.
At its slowest points, the hopping around replicates the numbing running-in-place sensation of 24-hour news coverage: the movie is simply hyping itself. Maybe any horror film will pale besides the currency of actual recent catastrophe (though in the case of Hurricane Katrina, more than one observer was reminded of Dawn of the Dead’s exhaustive imagining of large-scale disaster). But The Bay unfolds more as a series of increasingly gross shots of the bubonic-looking boils and ebola-quick bloodletting suffered by the ocean critters’ victims. It’s less eco-horror than (apologies to William Gaines) just plain ecch-horror.