Film Review: The Bay

bay

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.

★★☆☆☆
IMDb

The Bay opens in cinemas across the UK and Ireland from Friday 1st March, 2013.

#250: Brotherhood (Broderskab) (2009)

How do you find sympathy for two neo-nazis struggling with their conflicting homosexual desires? It’s a paradox that Copenhagen based filmmaker Nicolo Donato wrestles with in his feature length debut Brotherhood (Broderskab, in Danish). A troubling film which mixes melodrama and soft-core porn to confuse audiences’ perceptions on these polemical characters.

After being thrown out of the army following an accusation that he was caught flirting with fellow officers, Lars (Thure Lindhardt) is left without identity or purpose in life. Initially hesitant, he is recruited into the Danish nationalist group by the the rotund, persuasive board leader Michael, aka Fatty (Nicolas Bro).

Welcomed into the fold, Lars becomes a roommate to one of the core members, Jimmy (David Dencik). Living in decrepit beach shack owned by the fraternity boss, the pair eventually fall in love. A secret they struggle to keep behind closed doors as they join their group on nighttime attacks on gays and refugees.

Inspired by a documentary about a fetishistic German neo-nazi culture, Donato and co-writer Rasmus Birch’s Brotherhood hinges on the exploits of love in a social war-zone. It’s a theme that has been tackled many times before, none more-so similar than Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Like Gyllenhaal and Ledger, central performers Lindhardt and Dencik’s portrayal of raw sexual urges and desire is magnificent. However, unlike that superior film, Donato picks such an atrocious context to hang this tender, venturing to irksome love story, that it’s extremely difficult to have any compassion for the soul-mates’ plight. A riff on Romeo and Juliet‘s misunderstood love, Brotherhood‘s closing moments are expectedly tragic and overblown.

Narrative problems aside, Brotherhood is a technical delight. Laust Trier-Mørk’s handheld cinematography has that claustrophobic throwback quality akin to Denmark’s Dogme 95 movement; filming the night of passion scenes objectively, but never cheapening or exploiting the marvellously bold performers. Jesper Mechlenburg’s muzak soundtrack is equally omnipresent, without ever being so overtly emotive as the treacly story line.

Embracing the same brazen attitude that many Danish artists have brimming from their fingertips, Donato’s hands-on approach to direction and difficult subject matters shows a great deal of promise. But Brotherhood relies too heavily on audiences to be emotionally engaged with unlikeable characters, an issue that, at its best, can only make for an impassive viewing experience.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it

PODCAST no.2: Week 31 / Films #188-194

Ernest Goes to Podcast

Popping down the quill and warming up the vocal chords, this is my second weekly round-up podcast for your ear’s delectation. Seven reviews, movie clips, and  thirty minutes of me talking. Why wouldn’t you want that?

Subscribe to the iTunes podcast HERE, or listen in to the Soundcloud hosting episode below. I may be biased, but I’d say that it is at the very least listenable.

#191: Mifune (1999)

HONEYMOANERS

Mifune is the third instalment to Dogme’95, a rigid film movement set up by a Danish frat-pack who had filmmakers sign a “vow of chastity” prohibiting them from using bourgeoise luxuries and “directorial touches” like props, nondiegetic sound/effects and genre pieces. Following on from Thomas Vinterberg’s quintessentially dark Danish drama Festen and enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s gratuitous The Idiots, stripped of a directing credit, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune is a lighter, considerably commercial film in the Dogme universe. An unadorned, kooky take on the classic Hollywood rom-com adage.

After consummating the vows on the night of his wedding, lustful Copenhagen yuppie Kresten (Anders Bertholesen) gets an unexpected wakeup call with news that his estranged father has died. Previously claiming he had no family, Kresten is forced by his father’s untimely death to abandon his bride Claire and return to the dilapidated farm of his youth and his hermitic, severely autistic brother Rud (Jesper Asholt).

With the first third playing out like a more bittersweet Danish equivalent to Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, Mifune goes all a bit Pretty Woman when Kresten, unbeknownst to him, hires former prostitute Liva (Iben Hjejle) as the live-in housekeeper and nanny for UFO-obsessed Rud. With these three characters all living under the same rotting roof, it doesn’t take long for unrequited romance to blossom and friction to rise to the surface.

Filmed over a brief ten days, it’s remarkable how Kragh-Jacobsen has been able to produce some fantastic performances in Mifune. Asholt embodies the fragile character Rud with delicate perspicacity, whilst Hjejle enchants as the rational and moralistic ex-hooker.

Most impressive of all is that, even when bound to the written code of conduct, this third Dogme film is that it doesn’t feel dogmatic at all. Kragh-Jacobsen’s enforced minimal style feels intrinsic to the thematically austere story. The result is an impressive example of thrifty, barebones storytelling, but one that is ultimately forgettable as soon as the makeshift credits swipe across the screen.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.