Barry Levinson originally wanted to make an eco-documentary. His trouble, he says, was making it dramatic enough to retain the audience interest level. Fair point, if you assume that the audience he was trying to reach was an undemanding group of found footage fans that were also really, really into woodlice. I’ve heard they’re a brilliant, if somewhat limited, group of notebook-carrying, bespectacled loners.
No, but seriously. Levinson wanted to make a documentary, so why dress up what is a potentially serious socio-economic comment about the frankly horrible state of things in an admittedly often creepy and skin crawling story of one July 4th celebration?
Well, because it works. Found footage movies may not have much life left in them by this point, but Levinson proves there is still something original in this most unimaginative of genres. Treating the ‘found’ footage here as a recovered collection of previously confiscated material, pinched by the military after the outbreak of something very nasty as it scuttles menacingly out of the water around Maryland, its central gaze is focused upon a young television reporter, barely out of high school on the day that Maryland’s biggest ever story breaks. She is left holding the microphone, bewildered by the events taking place around her. Thus is The Bay.
It’s not groundbreaking film-making by any means, yet Levinson does what few have managed to achieve since Blair Witch started this whole debacle, providing characters that are both rounded yet throwaway, creating a believable scenario where you may well end up scratching your head as to the outplaying of events, but yet you are still keen to see the results.
The town of Chesapeake Bay, we are told by the recently and adeptly profiled Mayor of the town has some of the safest drinking water anywhere. To prove it, he will even swallow a mouthful of it. However, he knows what the rest of the town are completely ignorant of. There’s way too much chicken shit in the bay.
At times, Levinson does stray away from his original ecological message, delving into visceral and even gratuitous biological consequences that may be better left to the imagination in some cases, and we can only assume these are the portions of the film that didn’t really fit into the documentary he was trying to make. An odd choice, given that the same footage, delivered with suitable gravitas would probably have had more resonance than it did here, what with the audience being dulled by entertainment as opposed to information.
Nevertheless, the film does stand up to close scrutiny, as a piece of found footage entertainment, and is as good an example of the genre as anything else you’ll see and actually better than most. With a smattering of relative unknowns in the acting department, that do a sometimes excellent yet other times average job, it’s never dull and often gripping enough to miss real life passing you by.
The script isn’t what you would label challenging, but the plot is amiable, paced well and unlikely to offend too much, even if the more graphic elements of the epidemic/virus/outbreak (delete as applicable) might make you wince a little from time to time. With a couple of genuine jumps sparsely decorating it, The Bay is an intriguing little monster of a movie, outshining many of its contemporaries and deserving of a greater audience than it can likely expect to find.
Check out Nick’s Review Here