Like any commercial industry, film follows trends. Along with superheroes, the other trend that has been bothering multiplexes cinema screens over the last ten or so years is the faux-found footage schtick. From the groundbreaking Blair Witch Project, up to the abysmal Generation X, it’s been an appropriately shaky gimmick, but hopefully Barry Levinson’s ‘eco-horror’ The Bay will be the final nail in the coffin.
The chameleonic director behind the phenomenally casted thriller Sleepers, and satire Wag the Dog, Levinson’s latest is his first ever straight up horror flick; a mock polemic that perfectly fits the found footage aesthetic. In the summer of 2009, the idyllic provincial town of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland was put into red light crisis mode when an unknown sea critter infected the water supply. Quickly enough, people start showing signs of infection, from rashes, to swellings and bugs crawling out of places where bugs should not be crawling out of. The entire town is shut down, and things start to get even more desperate as people fight for survival and dead bodies start crowding the streets. Right after the crisis, the government confiscated all video footage and proof of the crisis, but good ol’ WikiLeaks has managed to release some of the evidence. Now it’s up to aspiring reporter and survivor Donna (Kether Donohue) to tell the world the shocking truth.
His first foray into horror, Levinson handles the required jumps and tonal unease well, whilst also using the sloshy found footage aesthetic with such panache that you feel like you’re watching a trashy TV documentary, minus the ad-breaks corny voiceover.
For all the daringness of the directing, it doesn’t stop The Bay from being an incredibly ugly and unfulfilling film. Because the story is played out in a mockumentary format, neither the characters, nor the audience have any idea what is going on. Just like the Dogme ’95 movement, every found footage movie breaks it’s limited format in the post-production department, with heavy jump cuts ladened with the routine suspense music of Marcelo Zarvos.
Following Soderbergh’s Contagion, perhaps there is a new, icky trend in the eco/epidemic horror. However, the experience of seeing The Bay is just like any uninspired modern horror (and there are many). Sitting in the darkness watching purposefully shitty quality footage for a thankfully short 84 minutes, you’re gingerly waiting for the next scare, rather than getting anything truly transgressive narrative depth or momentum.
After some disappointing comedies and TV movie work, it’s great to see Levinson given the chance to tell stories on the big screen, even if The Bay is best suited for a home viewing. Whatever you do, don’t start a google image search of the film’s villainous aqua critter. I found the footage, but I really wish I’d left it lost.
The Bay opens in cinemas across the UK and Ireland from Friday 1st March, 2013.