Barry Levinson‘s The Bay is a found footage thriller without the thrills. Devoid of energy and dependent on a couple of jump scares (both of which are spoiled in the trailer), some gory effects and a redundant narrative, The Bay recounts the story of the small town of Claridge, Maryland as it is decimated by a parasitic outbreak due to the polluted waters of the Chesapeake Bay (which are actually quite polluted) containing loads of chicken shit and nuclear leakage.
The film begins with the face of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) as she is having a Skype conversation recounting the three-year-old incident. Donna was on her first assignment that day, as a newswoman covering the July 4, 2009 festivities when the outbreak occurred. Due to a government cover-up she hadn’t been able to get the details out until now. She narrates the story as a collection of videos from security cameras, random personal cameras, police cams and her very own newsman’s camera detail the story.
With absolutely zero inflection, Donna goes over what happened one dry moment after another. Some oceanographers were killed 16 days before the incident, the mayor chose to overlook the signs and suddenly when the chaos went down there was no stopping it.
One of the small plotlines involves a local doctor as he is in contact with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and is eventually advised to leave the hospital as the number infected continue to pile up, many of them dying. Every time the film cuts back to this guy it’s the same old thing, “What can you do for us?” The CDC responds, “We don’t know!” “But people are dying!” Yeah, we get and we got it the first three times, move on or just die already.
The infected begin by exhibiting a series of boils and blisters all over their body until suddenly the parasite begins eating at them from the inside. The idea is admittedly creepy and these little buggers grow from tiny little guys into rather large cockroach-looking things in a matter of hours thanks to the steroids from the chicken feed. As the film moves on we see in greater, gory detail just what they’re capable of, but by that time we have become relatively numb to the ordeal and are ready for it to end.
The found footage aspect brings nothing but shaky cam to the scene as people won’t stop recording no matter what is going on. “What’s that? Something is biting you in the water? Well let me jump off this dock with the camera to save you and try and record the whole thing with one arm and save you with the other!” Seriously? Another woman walks down the street screaming for help and all anyone can do is runaway while some other joker films her. Who are these people?
There really aren’t any performances to speak of though I have to say Kether Donohue brought little to nothing to this film. At one point she coldly states, “I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my whole life.” Now read that quote back to yourself as if you are talking about the most boring thing you can think of. That’s the level of intensity she brings to the picture, and if this is how Levinson is guiding his actors nowadays it may be time to hang things up.
By the end of the film some people have lost their minds and one woman acts like a zombie for one of the most desperate jump scares I’ve seen in some time. To betray your own narrative because it so clearly isn’t working is a death knell for a film.
The found footage idea does not work. There was too much to convey and too many characters involved for it to work. It was like watching television that refuses to stay on the same channel for more than four minutes and every now and again a face would come on and give us a few wise words before shuffling us off to the next station.
To know Barry Levinson directed this is to wonder what happened to the director that brought us Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam, The Natural, Diner and Wag the Dog and is now directing found footage films. I say this as someone that actually enjoys some found footage features, but this was just a boring slog that deserved a more traditional narrative with less talking heads and more outright thrills.