Saturday, February 23, 2013
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Michael Wallach
Starring: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Anthony Reynolds, Michael Beasley, Jane McNeill, Andy Stahl, Christopher Denham, Tim Parati, Stephen Kunken, Frank Deal, Robert C. Treveiler, Justin Welborn
Found footage films tend to be pretty polarizing among film fans. Some people love them because they have a certain realism to them. Some people hate them because they usually try to create realism but fail. However, like any other style of film making, I think there are good found footage films and bad ones. I rarely seek them out but occasionally one will come along that interests me. Recently I quite enjoyed VHS (2012) and I remember seeing The Blair Witch Project (1999) in the theater and it scaring the shit out of me.
When I first heard about Barry Levinson's The Bay (2012), I didn't necessarily have high hopes for it but I was quite interested in seeing it. I grew up near the Chesapeake Bay and to see it taking center stage in a horror movie intrigued me. I was a little disappointed when I found out they didn't actually film near the Chesapeake (choosing North and South Carolina as stand-ins for Maryland) but I can be forgiving of that.
The film follows a young reporter for a local news station as she is sent to Claridge, MD to cover their Fourth of July festivities as her first story. All hell breaks loose when a waterborne parasite infects the town and suddenly she is covering a story that she never expected. Claridge is not a real town in Maryland but it reminds me a lot of some of the towns I grew up near, most especially St. Michaels and Chestertown. They may not have filmed in Maryland but they got the look and feel of these small towns down perfect and that helped sell the movie for me.
I actually found this movie to be pretty scary because the situation that causes this parasite to mutate seemed plausible. They did their research on Maryland's Eastern Shore and incorporated a lot of things I remember from growing up there, especially the chicken houses. They always gave me the creeps anyway but they are a huge part of the economy for that part of Maryland.
The acting in the film is quite good, especially Kether Donahue who plays a reporter who ends up with a story that is far over her head. I've seen some complaints that she doesn't come across as a believable reporter but I think that is intentional. This is her first assignment and it was supposed to be a fluff piece and she is suddenly forced into a situation that she is unprepared for and has no idea how to handle. I think she played the fear and confusion of that situation quite well.
Not all of the footage comes from the reporter though. It comes from security cameras, cameras in police cars, skype conversations with the CDC (because no one just uses a phone these days), personal video cameras and Facetime chats (which wasn't released until 2 years after this movie takes place). All these video sources are brought together and narrated by the reporter who is now looking back at the situation after quite some time has passed, which I think gives the film an interesting perspective.
Maybe because the film hit so close to home, I found it to be quite scary. There is this very unsettling atmosphere that runs through the whole film that I feel is heightened by the found footage aspect. The stories of how this happened and who was involved in covering it up are done quite well. The scenarios never feel forced or out of place for the characters being portrayed. The makeup effects along with the descriptions of how the parasite infects its hosts work together in such a way that the whole scenario seems realistic and terrifying.
The movie is not without its problems though. There are quite a few of those "why is someone filming this?" or "why is there a camera there?" moments that you get in a lot of found footage films. Because of how well everything else works I am forgiving of these moments though. The only thing that really bugged me about the movie is the convenient timeline of events. Two oceanographers get killed by these parasites and everyone writes it off as a shark attack. Then nothing happens for two weeks. No one gets sick or injured during that time. Then suddenly, everyone starts to feel the effects of the parasite at the same time: at the Fourth of July festivities when there is a reporter running around to film everything.
In spite of the normal flaws that most found footage films have and that one gaping plot hole, I rather enjoyed the film. It was a genuinely unsettling film to watch. I recommend seeing this if you are a fan of found footage horror films. However, if you grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay, you must see this movie. You'll never look at that water the same way again.