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'The Bay' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By

'The Bay' movie poster.
© Roadside Attractions
Eco-themed horror cinema experienced a Renaissance in the '70s with a steady stream of man-versus-wild films, from overt, semi-preachy "don't mess with Mother Nature" fare like Prophecy, Frogs and Long Weekend to killer animal flicks like Jaws and its myriad of clones. Now, with The Bay, Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) is reviving '70s eco-horror in a distinctly 21st century format: found footage.

The Plot

Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) is a plucky American University Communications major working as an intern for a local TV news station. She's assigned a puff piece -- covering the annual 4th of July festival in the small coastal town of Claridge, Maryland -- but before she knows it, she's stumbled onto the biggest story of the year. Before her eyes, residents begin to fall ill, starting with rapidly spreading skin rashes, transitioning into crippling abdominal pain and internal bleeding, and culminating in violent death.

The authorities close the only road out of town and block phone signals, and as the lone hospital overflows with patients, panic sets in. Through the lenses of a variety of cameras -- from Donna's news camera to local security cams to police dash cams to iPhones and Skype -- the chaos plays out. Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), the head physician in the hospital, juggles fighting on the front lines of the outbreak with communicating with the Center for Disease Control to figure out what exactly the infection is. Officers Jimson (Michael Beasley) and Paul (Jody Thompson) make gruesome discoveries on 911 calls throughout town. Young parents Alex (Will Rogers) and Stephanie (Kristen Connolly) Talbot take a boat from Delaware to visit relatives in Claridge, unaware of the pandemonium that awaits them.

Interspersed with these videos are shots from weeks prior of two oceanographers who uncovered the source of the catastrophe but whose warnings fell on deaf ears. At that time, big business won over concerns about environmental impact, but now, on July 4, Mother Nature is having the last word with a deadly invasion from the depths of the sea.

The End Result

Jane McNeill in 'The Bay'.

Jane McNeill in 'The Bay'.

Photo: Stan Flint © Roadside Attractions
That Barry Levinson would direct a horror movie isn't completely out of left field, given he helmed the star-studded 1998 supernatural thriller Sphere. The Bay is the polar opposite of that film, however, in that it features no big-name stars and a modest budget that's kept low in part by the low-tech found footage approach of using regular, consumer-quality video cameras to film the action. Where The Bay differs from most found footage efforts is in how many cameras it uses -- more than 20 -- and variety of viewpoints it provides. Rather than focusing on a single group of protagonists, the movie jumps around town to give more comprehensive coverage of the crisis, sort of like if Contagion was told from a first-person point of view.

Switching between characters so often is a necessity, however, because they're pretty much one-dimensional with dry, occasionally irritating dialogue (including an ill-conceived running gag about one scientist's thick foreign accent) that makes it hard to muster interest in their fates. The acting furthermore lacks the emotion needed to take full advantage of the dramatic, life-or-death scenario. The largely unknown (save perhaps for Kristen Connolly of The Cabin in the Woods fame) cast doesn't convey the naturalness that's essential to making found footage fare feel real.

Thankfully, the material itself is compelling enough in concept to make up for the shortcomings of the actors and the script. The nature of the "infection," once revealed, is truly terrifying, and the scenes of its devastation on the human body are grisly and unnerving. They're so effective, in fact, that you wish there were more of them. The mayhem in the film builds at too slow a pace, and by the time it consistently gets to squirm-in-your-seat territory, the movie ends. It feels as if Levinson and company held back, perhaps not wanting to fully exploit the real-life ecological threat upon which the story is based. Regardless, in the end, it's that fact behind the fiction of The Bay that's the scariest part of all.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C- (Not realistic nor emotional enough.)
  • Direction: B- (Solidly built tension, creative edits.)
  • Script: C (Good concept, but its boundaries aren't pushed as far as they could be. Bland dialogue.)
  • Gore/Effects: B (It's takes a while to get to it, but the grisly moments are nerve-wrackingly effective.)
  • Overall: C+ (A tense infection movie-meets-creature feature whose skin-crawling nature overcomes flaws with the performances, script and pace.)

The Bay is directed by Barry Levinson and is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language. Release date: November 2, 2012 (in theaters and on demand).

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