Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water… here comes The Bay! A film with tons going against the tide — directed by Barry Levinson (best-known for his comedies), it's an eco-horror (oooh… seaweed. Scary!), yet another found-footage (with all the footage found, you'd think the entire world's population are 24/7 documentarians) — I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
One of the most cleverly crafted of the genre (running a close-second to Chronicle, which is still the most cinematic ones I've seen so far), The Bay hooks the viewer right away with a central character to care about. Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) is a cub reporter, who, while on her first assignment, was unwittingly poised to blow the lid off government secrets concealed from the masses and the media.
Only now coming to light in an interview she's giving to Gov-Leaks dot-com, Donna recounts that sunny July 4 day she went out on her first assignment to cover Crab-Fest in Chesapeake Bay, and how she barely escaped with her life later that night. Much of the story is revealed through video from she and her cameraman, but there are also several bits and bloody pieces cobbled together through cell-phone emails, hospital surgery room surveillance, and police car dash-cams.
By and by, a mysterious affliction comes to the fore, affecting the Bay's residents through painful rashes, exploding boils, nausea and insanity fueled by extreme pain and terror. The culprit turns out to be a flesh-eating viral mutant, which is no surprise or secret, but the way in which Levinson ekes out the suspense, and the performances from which he coaxes his actors, is admirable. This is one of the few found footage films you'll find which is made as though those involved actually cared — usually, in my experience, the stories are simply unspooled A to B style, with little craft or expurgation involved.
That's not to say there aren't enough plot holes big enough for a school of sharks to swim through, or that the movie doesn't leave you with more questions than answers. However, at least in this case you might actually be invested enough to want resolution, unlike most in which you (OK, I) just want the characters to all die so the movie will be over already.
Feeling like a refreshing, modern take on 70s eco-horror films such as Piranha, Prophecy, or even (to a much lesser extent) 1978's Long Weekend meets 2011's Contagion, The Bay does its job in delivering a message while entertaining and grossing you out at the same time.
The Bay is out on Friday, theatrically and via V.O.D.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson