Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Bay

Certificate 15, 2012


Written by Michael Wallach

Director Barry Levinson

A victim of The Bay, contemplates his imminent demise
Veteran Academy award winning director Barry Levinson, with Rain Man and Tin Men amongst his accomplishments, returns to the helm dipping a toe into the horror genre with The Bay. Filmed in the increasingly popular found-footage style, Levinson’s craft shines out through most of the spinning of this ghastly yarn.

The thrust of the story has a timely ecological message. A Maryland chicken farm on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, (the area where Levinson himself grew up) owned of course by the corrupt local mayor, has been mass breeding poultry using growth accelerants to speed the birds’ development. The consequent dumping of millions of tons of steroid enhanced chicken shit into the bay has polluted the water’s fragile ecosystem and given rise to the evolution of rather nasty parasite. These isopods are capable of developing from tiny larva to apple-sized adulthood in hours, a consequence of the build up of steroids in their DNA. This waterborne menace erupts on July 4th 2009 whilst the locals are celebrating Independence Day on the water, with all sorts of fun and games, ranging from swimming to the annual crab eating contest. Of course, within hours, the good townsfolk succumb to ghastly deaths.

The movie has a couple of flaws. The lead into the horror, 3 years after the disaster, with Kristen Connolly playing the journalist survivor of the day, that provides the thread by which all the found footage can be justified to have been edited together, is corny. Also, why did this organism erupt so violently just on July 4? Surely it had been building up across the town for days/weeks beforehand. In Levinson’s defence , it may well be that found-footage plots will always struggle for a credible reason by which their tales can be told. Either way, the patronising tone of the opening sequence sits at odds with the skilfully told remainder of the movie.

The graphic footage that Levinson has created of this terrible day is very well put together. The sources range from hand held camcorders, to in-car police videos as well as cameraphone and the inevitable CCTV footage. And because these cameras are so diverse and are not expected to be HD quality, Levinson achieves much through suspense and blurred fuzzy imagery, only occasionally needing to showing scenes of horror. Whilst we may see a victim’s stomach rippling with the crawling life forms inside him, or the rare moment of an adult parasite burrowing its way out of a victim’s neck, such gruesome tableaux are deployed sparingly. As well as creating effective suspense, the fright-moments of some shocks are also very well measured.

The grainy found-footage works, with the substantial part of the movie effectively becoming the documentary type tale that the writer envisaged. The story is plausible, whilst the disgusting boils and lesions that the victims suffer, before these creatures eat their way out of their human hosts are a credit to the movie’s make-up and SFX team. The strengths of the documentary component of this film outweigh its early flaws and once this story gets going, it makes for excellent if sometimes stomach-churning viewing. Recommended.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

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