Oscar-winner Barry Levinson has decided to create a "found footage" film. These features have developed their own sub-genre, although it has certainly become stale. Levinson attempts to deliver a breath of fresh air to this overused gimmick by directing The Bay, which is a horror/thriller intended to make audiences paranoid about how people treat the environment and the consequences of those actions. This film takes a real world issue and transforms it into a story that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. While the concept is good, there are too many characters telling this story.
The charming seaside town of Chesapeake Bay thrives on water. When two biological researchers from France find a terrifying level of toxicity in the water, they attempt to alert the mayor with the recordings of their research, but he ignores them. A deadly plague is ultimately unleashed, which turns the people of Chesapeake Bay into hosts for a mutant breed of parasites that take control of their minds, as well as their bodies. The government decides to not allow anybody to leave the area, as scientists and doctors attempt to discover how to get rid of this ecological disaster.
Once The Bay begins, we're introduced to a reporter by the name of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue). Audiences are led to believe that Thompson is the lead character, but there isn't any central narrative to follow. The film jumps from one camera to the next with a completely different set of characters. With having this many roles, it never allows viewers to connect with any of the people on screen. Some of them die off quickly and others are uninteresting, which will have viewers wondering why they were put in the film to begin with. The situation this town finds itself in is frightening, but the loss of a narrative is a big fault. Instead of trying to give so many perspectives, perhaps the filmmakers should have focused on one group of characters and spent the time to humanize them. It's a big problem when everybody on screen feels so disconnected from its audience. For a movie that intends to be realistic, it's disappointing that these characters come across as stereotypical horror clichés. The constant transitions from one point-of-view to another hurts the build-up. The focus should have been on the researchers in order to show the events in sequence, but each time the film cuts to another group of random characters, it becomes even more distracting.
The film's biggest strength is the concept. The idea of something in the local water supply harming people doesn't sound completely unrealistic. The Bay will make you think about the resources in your area and how we treat the world around us. Instead of creatures coming out of the waters and killing these characters, they infect their hosts and they begin to die slowly. It's quite disturbing to watch the progression of pain that these people endure. There's even one sequence where an entire scene takes place off camera and is perhaps the most effective scene in the entire film. A couple of police officers enter a house where a 9-1-1 call came from, but it's being filmed from the camera in the police car outside. Moviegoers hear what the officers are experiencing, but Levinson leaves the visual details to the minds of the viewers. The overall execution has its problems, but the concept itself is scary and that is more than what can be said about the majority of "found footage" flicks.
It doesn't take very long for this film to set itself up for negative criticism when it comes to the acting. Reporter Donna Thompson is speaking through a video chat program and begins to discuss the terror she witnessed while in the Chesapeake Bay. Kether Donohue delivers an unconvincing performance that becomes very distracting. She's unable to convey any emotion and appears to be bored throughout the film. There should have been more effort put into finding a decent actress to open the movie. Kristen Connolly is a big improvement in the role of Stephanie. She has a lot less screen time, but she's believable. The remainder of the cast does an acceptable job with the material, but don't expect to be captivated by any of these actors.
While "found footage" flicks, such as Paranormal Activity, were filmed on the same type of cameras, The Bay was shot on a variety of different devices. There are a bunch of different resolutions throughout the movie and a large amount of choppy editing in between. These flawed transitions are noticeable and detract from the overall presentation. Fortunately, the handheld camera work is much better than expected. It's never difficult to see what's happening and viewers will never become dizzy. Once the film kicks into high gear, the score doesn't do many favors for the tension. While it isn't a bad score and it could have worked in another feature, it doesn't fit in a "found footage" movie. Even though I have some stylistic gripes with The Bay, the special effects are absolutely phenomenal. The make-up used on the infected is great, as this ecological disaster becomes quite grotesque.
Even though this film utilizes the "found footage" gimmick to tell its story, The Bay has a real social message behind it. There are many people in the world who don't care about the environment around us, even though we depend on its resources. This film tells a terrifying story that combines reality and fantasy, although the execution is problematic. Instead of developing a group of main characters, there are numerous roles telling the story. This horror film has characters that are as uninteresting as they could possibly get. With such a promising concept, The Bay could have been better, although it still isn't a bad movie. It will probably have a bigger effect on smaller screens at home, as it will give the feature a home movie atmosphere. Rent it.