Barry Levinson is not a name normally associated with the horror genre, nor either of the two sub genres explored here, the eco thriller and found footage. Opening with a montage of news snippets of environmental crises, mass deaths of fish stocks and algal blooms, journalist Donna Thompson introduces her investigation into the events of July 4th 2009 in Claridge, Maryland, of which she was one of the few survivors.
Presented as a mockumentary rather than the usual lone camcorder of most found footage films, The Bay sidesteps many of the criticisms of that genre in that it is assembled from an archive of multiple sources, and the fact that Thompson is aware of her shortcomings as a narrator, the sole documenter of that day, adds to her authenticity.
The interrupted celebration is a standard established in Jaws and its affectionate low budget companion Piranha, both similarly aquatic in theme, but still carried through to the high bodycount of the Final Destination films, as it facilitates the establishment of a large and diverse cast, usually families with young children to be lined up for slaughter, allows the required swerve of tone from joy to horror, and on this occasion justifies the conceit of multiple recordings of different aspects of the events.
Levinson employs further tools from the arsenal of a feature director beyond the multiple narratives and professional editing, actually soundtracking the action in some scenes, merging the immediacy and intimacy of found footage into the narrative of a traditional film. The background established, the story unfolds, the desalination plant that allows the local chicken farms to expand despite concern of the ecological impact, the mutilated bodies washed up on the shore two weeks before that barely warranted attention, the first reports of swimmers being bitten, before the burgeoning disaster unfolds.
Unfortunately, that disaster is not the decimation of the population so much as the second half of the film; having established he is capable of blending the best of both styles of filmmaking into an effective and convincing synthesis, as soon as the mutated parasites are unleashed, any innovation is abandoned as swiftly as the blighted town as the residents head for the hills, and instead every tired and obvious cliché so studiously avoided in the opening act shows up to be counted.
Long lost cousins?
Infected cops shoot each other, a bloodied carrier hides in the darkened back seat of an abandonded car, loving couples grimly progress through the carnage as the condition of one deteriorates, a supposedly dead body, face torn apart, opens its eyes and looks around, and all the while the staff at the hospital valiantly try to cope with the influx of wounded.
There are hints that Levinson’s inclusion of the most obvious tropes is ironic; the turn of the film is signalled by a teenage boy persuading his companion to take her top off before leaping into the water, and one of the shambling infected is apparently aping the gait of the most famous found footage star of all, Bigfoot, but as the makeup becomes more ridiculous and the plot increasingly diluted, any intended joke falls flat.
It is appreciated that, unlike many films of this style, not all the characters are arrogant idiots; the medical staff are shown to be capable and determined, following procedures and contacting the correct authorities, a reason for the outbreak is established and traced to a root cause, and the film does have a resolution, albeit an unconvincing damp squib, though this is preferable to the blank screen of a dropped camera that is usually proffered.
What is most disappointing is that this film will receive wider distribution and be seen by more people than the documentary Food, Inc which depicts the reality of the horror in this film, the force feeding of hormones to chickens who are kept in unsanitary, overcrowded, darkened factory farms before slaughter, and that many of those same viewers will have consumed the product of that industry even as they watch the film, unawares.