Barry Levinson. This guy has done a lot of prestigious films. From his first film, Diner, and other efforts in the 80′s like Good Morning Vietnam, to the multiple Oscar winning classic, Rain Man, and other films such as Sleepers (an underrated film that needs to be seen by more people), Disclosure, Wag The Dog, and Toys, this is not a name you would associate with horror.
Well, the man has made a horror movie. Not just any horror movie, but a FOUND FOOTAGE horror movie. That’s right. The sub-genre that has been beaten like Nicky Santoro in Casino, and may as well be buried in a corn field as well, has an OSCAR WINNING director tackling it. He’s also very successful with it.
There’s been a huge glut of these types of films. Mostly cheap independent ones, since it doesn’t take much of a budget to do one of these. Of course, without a budget, and mostly done by first timers, these films lack the “flair” that other films have. Of course, when someone who knows what they’re doing tackles any type of genre, more often than not, they are successful with it. George Romero tackled the found footage sub-genre, with Diary Of The Dead, and most will say he wasn’t successful, but I believe he was. It was definitely a breath of fresh air.
With The Bay, the seasoned veteran director has done something similar. For instance, let’s have a quick rundown of the types of things that just about all found footage horror films do.
1. Have lots of shaky cam
2. Usually use only a few cameras
3. Usually keep gore to a minimum
4. Use unknown actors
5. Have an abrupt ending where the cameraman is killed, ending the film
6. Have an opening segment that reveals the footage has been compiled together
7. Be between 80-85 minutes
I can say with full knowledge that this film has no shaky cam. Well, that’s not entirely true, there is very minor “People walking with the camera”, but not to the gross overuse of some films, or with people running and try to film. This film is made with mostly stationary cameras, and when someone is actually holding the camera, *shock* it doesn’t give you motion sickness!
I saw The Bay via Amazon VOD, and I’ve found that found footage horror films tend to work better at home rather than on the big screen. This would probably also help out people that like these types of films, but detest the shaky cam.
The Bayalso doesn’t end with the camera falling to the ground, as the story is not designed like that, despite using the [REC] format of having a reporter, and a cameraman as one of the many sources of the footage. Others being CCTV footage, cellphones, digital cameras, camcorders, camcorders mounted on police car dashboards, and even Skype.
Those aside, Barry Levinson uses all of the other tropes, but never once, does the film feel cheap or not effective. I watch a lot of horror films. About as much as I watch action films, and rarely do I ever jump at a scare, but one scare, a cheap one no less that I was half expecting to happen, got me in this film, and I have to applaud a film that does that to me.
There is some genuinely creepy goings on in the film, from an old woman walking through a crowd with the “disease” all over her, asking to be taken to a hospital, and everyone doing their best to stay away, to the parasites (the creatures of the film that invade people are Isopods, which are a real thing!) burrowing out of people and eating them, while others beg armed people to end their suffering. One scene that is basically just audio that’s been digitally cleaned up is also very creepy and effective.
The make up effects in the film are very well done, and they are unsettling, as they look like a combination of severe acne and a really bad rash. This film doesn’t skimp on the gore, but it doesn’t wallow in it either. It finds a comfortable middle ground that Levinson uses effectively.
The film also reminds of the “Nature gone amok” films of the late 70′s in that The Mayor of the town near The Bay (The eponymous place being Chesapeake Bay) doesn’t want to shut anything down, because The 4th Of July is happening (sound familiar?), despite evidence surfacing as long ago as years prior, but he never acted on any of it. William Castle’s production Bug, as well as the tv film Ants immediately come to mind when thinking about the film, not to mention the The X-Files episodes “Ice” and “Agua Mala.”
I did love the explanation for why the Isopods have mutated and grown larger. It (and I’m not joking here) involves a Nuclear Reactor and CHICKEN SHIT. No, not when someone calls you a chickenshit, I’m talking about actual, literal, CHICKEN SHIT. That’s a pretty original origin for the outbreak.
Another factor of interest is that Oren Peli, of the Paranormal Activity films, was a producer on this film. I didn’t know that going in, and didn’t know that until the end credits. Interesting that he’d be a part of this, as the Paranormal Activity films are prime examples of shitty found footage films (the first one aside, which I actually liked), but I would think that he didn’t have much “Say” over this film, and it was Levinson calling all the shots. I haven’t seen the other Peli produced film, The Chernobyl Diaries, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not very good. Odds are he had more control over that one.
The Bay is most certainly worth your time. Especially since the VOD price on Amazon is only $4 and change, and that’s a lot easier to make a decision on, than paying $10 for most VOD films. It’s a film from an over-exposed and used sub-genre, with many horror tropes that have been used many times over by other horror films, but it’s tackled by a veteran director very well, and that makes all the difference between it and the countless other films.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars