The Bay

The Bay

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

A timely eco-chiller triggered by that infamous cute/creepy viral picture of an impish isopod parasite peeking out from a fish's throat, The Bay is a strange move into voguish found-footage thrills for Hollywood schmaltz-merchant Barry Levinson, who spends so much time trying to keep his finger on the pulse that he neglects to exploit his scenario for its full horror potential. A bustling ensemble of unknowns struggle for recognition amid waves of disorienting digital media, while the political leanings of first-timer Michael Wallach's script repeatedly bash the viewer over the head with overly obvious criticisms of big bad government figures. There's some fun to be had among the commotion of the outbreak, but it all seems too stretched to really bite deep as either satire or schlock.

Chesapeake Bay was gearing up for the annual celebration of its crab-fishing industry when all hell broke loose due to what was initially assumed to be an infectious disease. In the intervening years the powers that be have tried to withhold information regarding the incident for fear of being implicated through their unsavory anti-environmental practices. Surviving journo Donna Thomson has been left traumatised by her experience, and so pieces together footage recovered from various sources to try to make sense of what happened as well as to get the truth out to the public.

The Bay gets off to a gripping start, the sun-drenched setting and wide-scale festivities building tension to the inevitable shit-storm brewing. Bizarrely, Levinson dumps each scenario being chronicled just as it's getting juicy; this strategy works to keep the viewer on edge initially, but soon grows as frustrating as having an itch you can't scratch. Every time he stages a crowd-pleasing set-piece - from an eating contest vomit-a-thon regurgitated from Stand By Me to the 28 Days Later-style infected fatties foaming at the mouth through panic-stricken crowds - he detours as if to deliberately deflate the tension, skipping between time-frames in jarring fashion and throwing mildly diverting politicised asides into the mix that probably would have been better hinted at in passing dialogue.

As deeply bugging bimbette Donna, Kether Donohue's to-camera testimony is totally unconvincing and unnecessary - you'll just want her to hurry up and die in the found footage, so what chance does she have prattling on about her rights a couple of years after the fact? It just further removes the viewer from the moment and confirms that Levinson probably isn't going to follow through on the script's promise. The editing cuts between far too many characters to care about what happens to any of them, and with the exception of a few chilling sequences - particularly the policemen on a routine house call gone awry off-screen - the herky-jerk rhythm of the conflicting footage scuppers any suspense or momentum being built.

Apart from Donohue the performances are fairly convincing, but never quite come off as realistic enough, while the situations quickly grow tied and repetitive - was Jaws banned in this town? It's the only explanation for characters repeatedly throwing each other in the water, while the flesh-eating starting on the outside before continuing from the inside-out is a nice touch, but the opportunity for some prime body-horror is mostly squandered, and contradicts the more traditional creature-feature chills elsewhere. Wallach obviously wanted to have his cake and eat it, ticking various trendy genre boxes, but he should really have narrowed the focus to wring maximum terror from his premise and mockumentary stings from his chosen form.

By holding back on the skin-crawling menace and piling on the knowing dialogue, Levinson attempts to make a found-footage flick for grown-ups, but falls short due to cliched posturing and a lack of original ideas. The variable performances and lack of sympathetic characters also conspire to dilute the desired effect, with the narrative chasing its tail after a well-mounted build-up. While it's a good deal classier than most straight-to-DVD shaky-cam shockers and certainly worth a watch, The Bay is ultimately too much of a late-comer to the party to make much of a lasting impression.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2013
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Chaos breaks out in a small town in the wake of an ecological disaster.
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