Article by: Coop Cooper
A.K.A. The Small Town Critic
This mockumentary chronicles the gruesome decimation of a small town on Chesapeake Bay by a virulent parasite. Pieced together from interviews, security cameras and found footage shot by civilians, “The Bay” mimics classic environmental disaster films from the 1970’s which were known for predicting grim consequences for the planet due to human negligence. What separates “The Bay” from the classic environmental horror films are these elements: 1. Computer generated special effects 2. The “found footage” format which has become all the rage these days 3. A complete and utter lack of narrative.
Notice in the above paragraph that I didn’t mention a storyline or point out the main characters of the film. That’s because “The Bay” has none. The film eschews a main character for a series of vignettes and scenes set to a timeline and tied together by one of the worst narrators I have ever encountered in cinematic history.
Actress Kether Donohue plays a reporter who is one of the few survivors of the incident, narrating her story sporadically throughout the film. Director Barry Levinson holds more than half of the blame for giving the majority of the dialogue to a character who speaks in a nasal “Valley girl” dialect and repeats the word “like” between every other sentence fragment. How she won the audition will forever be a mystery to me. I understand that Donohue is an accomplished voice-over actress for cartoons. I encourage her to stick to that.
In addition to Donohue, no other actor manages a believable performance. Natural and realistic acting is essential for audiences to buy into found footage/mockumentaries. With the exception of the actors playing humans dying violently from the parasite, this film has none. In fact the acting in “The Bay” is worse than many of the worst films of its genre. Again this is primarily the fault of the director.
Barry Levinson has no valid excuse for this mess. The Academy Award-winning director is better known for dramas (“The Natural,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Rain Man”) and the occasional sly comedy (“Wag the Dog”). Only once did he venture into sci-fi/horror with the sub-par motion picture adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Sphere” (1998) and that failure should have been a clear indicator that he should never attempt that genre again. In 1979, John Frankenheimer – one of my favorite filmmakers – directed the hilariously bad eco-horror film “Prophecy” about a deformed, mutant bear born of toxic waste who goes on a rampage in rural Maine. As terrible as that movie was, at least it didn’t take itself too seriously. “The Bay” is worse because it does.
The film’s only saving grace is in its brutal horror scenes where infected people desperately search for help and ultimately fail with disgusting results. The cause of the infection is frightening and its method of delivery will make your skin crawl. I sincerely hope such a scenario is not possible on this planet and I would sooner inject myself with Ebola than go through what the victims went through in this film. Having said that, this film has a heavy-handed agenda which is a proven turn-off to general audiences in a post 9-11 America. Viewers will get the message but I doubt it will convert anyone to apply for a job at the EPA. Only well-made, legitimate (at least we should hope they are) documentaries have that kind of power.
The resolution of the film is insulting. The timeline suggests this incident has already happened (in 2009), the biohazard was eliminated and hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths on American soil were somehow successfully covered up. According to the film, we – finger pointed squarely at you and me – sit here oblivious, complacent and apparently without the resources or motivation to discover exactly why a large population of U.S. citizens suddenly up and died.
Sure the environment needs protection, but does this extreme – and in this case, bafflingly inept – cinematic alarmism help the cause? However you feel about ecological issues, I’ll argue that “The Bay” looks slick, and features good makeup effects which might get under your skin. Besides that, it’s entirely too incompetent to effectively represent its intended message.
“The Bay” is now in limited release and also available on iTunes and Video On Demand.
Rating: 1 out of 5