Back in 2011 Steven Soderbergh directed an A-list ensemble to critical praise, with viral outbreak Thriller Contagion. The results were a piece of glorified propaganda, vilifying the truth and featuring a cold turn from Matt Damon. So it is with unsure hopes that we stumble into Barry Levinson’s (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man) narratively similar but oh-so-different film, The Bay. Another entry in the ever-expanding found-footage genre. This film had an intrigue about it but the trailer featured the odd gimmick and a sense of uncertainty about the end product. Well here it is, in its entire boil covered, parasite infested glory. The Academy Award winning Levinson’s detour into unknown (for him) but common (for us) territory offers splendid results.
The film is labelled a horror and in many ways bares some of the gory, shocking trademarks. Yet the most horrific thing about The Bay is not what we see, nor the atmosphere, it’s not even the premise itself. The scary thing about this film is how believable it is. Not in the sense that you will think it is real (even though it has that presentation- which is done quite nicely) but in the sense that the onscreen level of political idiocy, governmental cluelessness and human callousness seems all too believable. The Bay examines cover-ups, the state of the world and how profit regularly takes first place ahead of safety. The whole reasoning behind the film’s ecological outbreak is rational and industrially motivated.
This is a found footage film that uses its medium just right and in spite of Levinson’s occasional off course scene, the direction is excellent. Utilising its almost documentary tone nicely, even if a creepy but forgettable soundtrack jars a tad with that format. The plotting has familiar elements but the whole delivery is so meaningful, potent and head-shakingly acceptable that any conventional elements are rendered entirely forgivable. There were worries that The Bay could end up, as little more than a curio or generic throwaway, thankfully it is way more. Opening with real footage and playing out like a documented disaster, wrongfully covered up. After this the very good found footage horror anthology, V/H/S and now this, 2013 is already shaping up nicely for the genre.
The Bay is not perfect and there is almost a tendency to take its social comments and eerie, paranoid atmosphere as immediate five star material. Yet there are flaws to see. Like many other films a few CG shots feel a bit too much (a dead sea flying shot) and there are occasional off course shifts (such as a house holdup sequence). The acting too, whilst far better than many bigger films as the cast of smaller names feel better suited in films like this, features few show stealers or standouts. The material never allows many to standout and a few characters lack a bit of emotion. Still, all in all, with The Bay you have a film that admittedly has moments of convention and flaws but take the eco-driven message and gruesome occurrences as they are meant to be and you have an excellent package.
The Bay brims with a sense of urgency but enjoyment, as Levinson directs a film that is the very product that Contagion should have been. Thought provoking and dangerously believable in tone. Watch this next to the likes of Cloverfield, Chronicle, V/H/S, Blair Witch Project, Lake Mungo and Troll Hunter for a found footage night of bedazzlement.
DVD Extras: Slim pickings really with a short ‘making of’ featurette and a trailer of the film.