Directed by Barry Levinson, the eco-horror movie “The Bay” failed to scare up much business at the box office. Now available on DVD, it deserves to find a wider audience. This is a remarkably plausible and terrifying “found footage” movie.
Via news reports that look eerily familiar, we learn that millions of dead fish have been found dead in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland. The movie purports to tell the real story behind this environmental disaster, which it claims has been covered up by the government.
A communications major named Donna (Kether Donohue) is covering the Fourth of July festivities in the small coastal town of Claridge when a bizarre outbreak affects the population. A leak from a nuclear reactor – not to mention millions of pounds of chicken excrement dumped into the bay by a local plant – has created a “toxic soup” in which a flesh-eating parasite can flourish. The results aren't pretty. The townspeople start to break out in boils and lesions, their tongues are chewed off from the inside, and by the end of the day 700 of them are dead.
Presented as a documentary, the movie has been cobbled together from a variety of sources: cameras owned by the townspeople, security cams, Skype conversations and the “FaceTime” feature on people's iPhones, among others. The person doing the filming isn't always close to the action, and Levinson uses this vantage point to build tension and stretch out the horror. The film's first big shock comes when the festivities are interrupted by a screaming woman wandering down the middle of the street. It takes awhile before the camera gets close enough to show us her alarming physical condition.
Levinson doesn't shy away from graphic violence and jump-and-scream moments. About halfway through the movie, the parasites start to show up frequently in the shots, and they are nasty little buggers. One of them jumps out of a fish's mouth and bites a man's hand as he's reeling in his catch. Sometimes it looks like we're watching an “Alien” sequel relocated from space to earth, such as when we see a close-up of a man's swelling, pregnant belly.
In addition to Donna, we follow several different characters in the town. We see the increasingly desperate situation at the hospital through the eyes of Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), who's in communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We also meet the mayor (Frank Deal), whose bright idea it was to build a desalination plant that would supposedly make water from the bay safe to drink and fill up backyard swimming pools with. One of the funniest shots in the movie shows the mayor declaring this the “best darn water” he's ever tasted before chugging. He's not unlike the mayor of Amity Island in “Jaws”, who also put lives in danger by valuing commerce over safety. Levinson finds other ways to pay tribute to Steven Spielberg's genre masterpiece, most obviously in a scene where two teenagers take an ill-fated trip down to the dock.
Page 2 of 2 - “The Bay” isn't quite the classic that “Jaws” is. The horror movie music that accompanies some scenes doesn't make a whole lot of sense given that we're supposed to be seeing raw footage, and the idea that an outbreak of this magnitude could be covered up is a bit hard to believe. (The cover-up in Levinson's hilarious “Wag the Dog” was much more convincing.) But there's a lot of pleasure to be had in watching a filmmaker take a great idea and just run with it. “The Bay” is guaranteed to give you a severe case of the heebie-jeebies.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He's a fan of the found footage genre but the “Paranormal Activity” movies are starting to test his patience. He lives in Wichita.